Athlete Classification

Introduction to Classification

What is classification?
Purpose of Athlete

Levels of Classification
Protests and Appeals

What is classification?

Classification is a process of grouping together athletes with a similar level of impairment or disability in relation to a specific sport, in order to create as fair a competition as possible among athletes with different disabilities. If athletes who have a similar level of impairment as each other compete against each other, then the result of the competition should be determined by sport skill and performance, rather than differences in their disability or impairment level. This is similar to the concept of age races amongst junior athletes, or weight divisions (or classes) in boxing.

In the early days of Paralympic sport, classification mainly consisted of medical testing or physical assessment, and a person was allocated a class based on those results, often with no consideration as to how different disabilities may affect aspects of different sports. Over the years, classification systems have evolved significantly, and most include both a measurement of the level of impairment, as well as testing to determine how that impairment affects the person in the specific sport. The classes for the sport are determined taking into account how a disability or impairment affects a person performing the sport. The term usually used to describe this type of classification evaluation is “Functional Classification”.  

One of the great challenges in classification is that there are so many different disabilities and impairments, and varying severities of each, and so there will always be a range of level of impairment within a class, regardless of how credible and evidence based the classification system is. It is not practical, for example, to have an unlimited number of classes, or it would be impossible to run a sporting competition. The solution is always a balance of a workable number of classes, which in turn means that there will be some variation in each class.  In able bodied sport, it is understood that there are differences in factors such as height or arm span, and these factors certainly affect sport performance. So while classification systems are continually evolving, and are aimed at creating as fair a competition as possible, there will always be variations within classes, and there will always be cases were a person is very close to the borderline between classes. A "perfect" classification system will never be created as there will be a range of disability within each class. No two athletes either able-bodied or disabled are exactly alike.   

Two disability groups use only a medical-based test to establish eligibility to compete. The visually impaired (blind) are classified by an eyesight test - the athlete has to be legally blind and there are 3 categories. The intellectually disabled have one category only - it does not take into consideration any additional physical disability. 

The systems used for each of the current Paralympic Sports are described on the IPC Website, and the APC is currently developing Information Sheets outlining the classification system for each sport.

Why Classify Athletes?
The classification of athletes with disabilities in sport is an attempt to ensure fair competition. The classification system enables athletes to compete at the highest level, regardless of individual differences in physical function. In order to achieve this many years of hard work has gone into developing classification systems that level the playing field for athletes with disabilities in all Paralympic sports.

Purpose of Classification Systems
·         Enable fair and equitable competition
·         Give each athlete with a disability an equal opportunity to compete at international level
·         Only measure functional limitations caused by the physical disability
·         Be as simple as possible so that it can be used in a consistent way in every participating country
·         Be sport specific

The following should NOT under any circumstances affect an athlete’s class in any sport:
·         Sporting skills or natural talent
·         Genetic superiority or inferiority
·         Body size or type, i.e. height, strength, length of arms etc
·         Gender
·         Training affect   

Sport Specific Classification Systems

All Paralympic sports have individual classification systems that have identified key areas that affect performance in their particular sport. Classification is very much based on specific function when related to individual sporting technique.

For example, a major functional aspect in the sport of wheelchair rugby is trunk function. An athlete with trunk function will be significantly advantaged compared to an athlete with no trunk control. Therefore, points awarded for the trunk are significantly higher than points awarded for biceps function.

Consequently, it is essential that an athlete competing in two or more sports receive a classification for each sport, as each classification will differ.

General Classification Procedure

The classification of most Paralympic sports consists of two tests. Each test assesses the physical potential of the athlete. All information gained from these tests is held by the Australian Paralympic Committee. All information is confidential.

The Bench Test

This consists of a physical examination to ascertain exactly in what areas the athlete’s disability affects the athlete’s physical function. This test should be conducted in a private room and will be recorded on a test sheet for future use.

This test varies depending on the disability, the presentation of the disability and the sport being classified for. Below are examples of various bench tests and the manner in which they are assessed. Please not that these systems are not exact and will be very dependent on the classification system in place for the specific sport. 

·         A Muscle Test examines the strength of the affected muscles and is used when testing spinal cord and related injuries. This is usually performed using the following system

     0          Total lack of voluntary contraction
     1          Faint contraction without any movement of the limb (a flicker)
     2          Contraction with very weak movement with gravity eliminated (poor)
     3          Contraction with movement against gravity (fair)
     4          Contraction with moderate resistance (good)
     5          Contraction of normal strength through the full range of movement against a full resistance (normal)

·         A Coordination Test examines the affect of the disability on the athletes coordination. This will be conducted at a variety of speeds in order to ascertain the true functional ability at all speeds. This test is usually conducted on those athletes with types of Cerebral Palsy and neuromuscular disorders. The following illustrates how the test is graded.

    0          No functional movement at all
    1          Very severely restricted range of movement due to muscle stiffness and/or very minimally coordinated movements
    2          Severely restricted range of movement with severe spasticity/muscle stiffness present and/or severe coordination problems
    3          Moderate range of movement, moderate spasticity with tone restricting movement and/or moderate coordination problems
    4          Almost full range of movement, with slight spasticity and slight increase in muscle tone and/or slight coordination problems
    5         Normal 

·         Range of Movement is tested by using the following scale. Reduced range of movement can severely affect an athlete’s performance, however, range is only a factor when dealing with a disability and not an unassociated injury

   0          No functional range of movement
   1          Slight functional range of movement
   2          25% functional range of movement
   3          50% functional range of movement
   4          75% functional range of movement
   5          Normal functional range of movement for the specific sport

The Demonstration of Technique Test

This consists of the athlete demonstrating techniques used in the sport. As mentioned before different sports test in different manners. For example;

·         In swimming the athlete is required to perform a variety of skills in the water, where the classifier will analyze the athlete performance taking into consideration the results gained from the bench test
·         In wheelchair rugby the athlete is required to demonstrate a number of ball skills, such as throwing and dribbling and also the athletes maneuverability of their chair will also be tested
·         In athletics the athlete will be required to run, jump or otherwise demonstrate their technique in performing the key aspects of their sport. In most cases the athletes sport specific equipment would be inspected and if possible used in the demonstration of technique. 

Visual Review During Competition

Integral to any classification testing procedure is the analysis of the athlete during competition. Competition enables the classifier to ascertain the true functional potential of the athlete, as this is the definitive sporting achievement.

Many sports have a review policy that enables a classifier to monitor an athletes classification over time. It is not unusual for athletes to be observed over a period of a year or more. However, this in no way has any disadvantages to an individual and should not be perceived as a threatening situation. It is the job of the classifier to ensure fair play and it is only fair to the athlete and those participating in that sport that the classifiers take every opportunity to ensure a correct classification is made. 

Minimal Disability 

If an athlete cannot be placed in any of the available classes then the athlete cannot be allowed to compete in either Australian Paralympic Committee regional and national competitions or IPC international competition.  

Higher rather than Lower 

Each classification system is not infallible and athletes sometimes do not fit exactly into the systems in place. When a classifier is unsure of the exact classification of a particular athlete the following procedure is followed; 

·         Allocate a higher, rather than lower classification grading for that athlete. This enables the athlete to compete in the sport. Over the years it has proved to be less damaging to the athlete to start at a higher classification (ie the more able grade) and if necessary drop the athlete a grade rather than the reverse. It can be extremely unsettling to an athlete to be raised a level of classification.
·         The athlete will then be observed for a period of time in both competition and training if necessary in order to allocate a true classification. This process can continue throughout the career of an athlete.  

Purpose of Athlete Classification  

The Pathway for Development

Any person can participate to some degree in sport; socially, for fitness, socialisation and enjoyment. To compete in sport as an Athlete with a Disability (AWD), an athlete must meet the minimal disability criteria for that sport, and know what sport class they would be.  Classification is a requirement for competition rather than for participation in sport.

Talented able bodied athletes have the possibility to aspire to compete at international or Olympic level in their chosen sport. An athlete with a disability similarly aspires to international or Paralympic competition.

Having access to some form of classification evaluation early in their sport career is an important part of the athletes’ developmental pathway, as it is the point at which they are definitively identified as fitting the criteria for Paralympic sport. 

Setting Goals  

Once an athlete has received a classification, their performance can be compared with elite athletes of the same class. This allows the athlete and their coach to determine how competitive the athlete is, and allows for realistic goals to be set.  

In this area, the accuracy and credibility of classification advice given at a national level is critical. Advice that is not based on an appropriate classification evaluation, or that is given by a person not trained as a classifier, can lead to inappropriate goal setting, confusion, disappointment and financial and emotional loss. Goals need to be determined based on as accurate a classification as possible.   

International Competition  

Once an athlete has progressed to the level of international competition, they will undergo International Classification by the International Classifiers certified by the International Federation, at the international event.  The classification decision at this level determines which class the athlete will compete in at the international competition. As such, the classification process can be highly stressful, particularly for athletes who have borderline classifications, or where they are not adequately prepared for what to expect.  

For this reason, it is very important that the classification evaluations that are conducted in Australia are rigorous, aligned fully with that of the international federation, and so that there is minimal risk of a different class being given when the athlete is classified internationally.  

Where there is doubt in a borderline case, it is recommended that the athlete is classified nationally in the higher (more able) class. In this way, a change of class at international level, if it occurs, is most likely to be to the athlete’s advantage. It is enormously costly, financially, emotionally and in terms of team preparation and morale, for an athlete to receive an adverse classification decision internationally – i.e. classified into a less disabled class than expected or even found to be ineligible. This risk can be minimised by rigorous classification processes in Australia.  

Levels of Classification 

In many ways it would seem ideal if every athlete could be classified nationally by an international classifier, as this would give the lowest risk of an adverse classification change when the international classification occurs. However, this option is logistically unrealistic, and is certainly not necessary for the majority of athletes who will only compete up to a national level.  

It is clear that there are many young athletes who are interested in several different sports, and who are currently participating or competing at a school or local level. These athletes do not need to have a full international style classification for each and every sport in which they are involved. Athletes who have specialised in a particular sport and who show potential for international competition, however, need a more rigorous sport specific classification evaluation, so as to ensure that the class given nationally is as accurate as possible.  

The challenge of a national classification pathway is to provide classification locally, regularly, at a level appropriate for the stage in an athlete’s development and in a way which is logistically realistic and sustainable. 

Provisional Classification

Provisional National Classification is a process by which a generic set of physical assessments is conducted; incorporating the tests used by the majority of sport classification systems. This is often called a ‘bench’ test. The results of this assessment are then compared against the classification systems of the sports nominated by the individual, and a provisional classification given for each sport.

The reason for the term ‘provisional’ is that this is not the sport-specific testing regimen for each of the sports, and it does not involve the sport-specific functional tests or observation of training or competition. As such, the classification can only be provisional. Provisional classification may be conducted face to face or remotely. 

This level of classification is valid to use up to a state or regional level, and not for national competition. In most cases records set with a provisional classification may not be recognised.  

For a young athlete who is interested in a range of sports, this is a time efficient way of obtaining reasonable classification advice for a range of sports.  

National Classification  

National Classification is a sport-specific classification process, incorporating the full assessment, physical and functional, that the International Classification process involves.  

This level of classification is intended for athletes who have narrowed their interest to a particular sport, who show talent in a particular sport or who are competing at higher than state level.  

National Classification should be available several times through the year, often in conjunction with a state or national championship for that sport. It is valid for up to national level competition and national records are usually recognised.

In cases where class allocation is borderline or where the athlete is due to compete internationally, the case may be reviewed by the Australian Chief Classifier for the sport, so as to give the highest possible level of classification advice to that athlete.

Protests and Appeals


An Appeal is defined by the International Paralympic Committee as: “An Appeal is the procedure by which a formal objection to the resolution of procedural related disputes is lodged and subsequently resolved. Each International Federation shall detail the respective Appeal procedures in their classification system.” (IPC International Standard for Protests and Appeals: Draft – Version 1.0, January 2006).  

A Protest is defined by the International Paralympic Committee as: “A Protest is the procedure by which a formal objection to an athlete’s sport class and/or sport class status is lodged and subsequently resolved.” (IPC International Standard for Protests and Appeals: Draft – Version 1.0, January 2006).   

Protests and Provisional Classification 

In general there are no protest opportunities for Provisional Classifications. In the case that a person disagrees with their Provisional Classification, the appropriate step to resolve this is for the athlete to undergo National level  classification for the particular sport, when such a classification is available. It is the responsibility f the relevant athlete to make arrangements to attend such a national classification. 

Protests and National Classification 

Each International Federation has rules pertaining to classification protests and appeals for their sport, and so there is no standard generic national procedure for classification protests and appeals. The Australian Paralympic Committee is currently developing guidelines to ensure that protests and appeals relating to national classifications are handled in a way that complies with the IPC Classification Code and the IPC International Standard for Classification Protests and Appeals, as well as the rules of the relevant International Federation. The APC will then work closely with each of our member federations to assist them to develop policies and procedures for fair, efficient and transparent resolution of classification protests and appeals. In many cases these processes already exist and are working effectively.

Information for Athletes

Classification Information for Athletes – please feel free to download this PDF document that has been developed to provide athletes with information about classification.

Sport Specific Classification Information
Archery Powerlifting
Athletics Rowing
Wheelchair Basketball Wheelchair Rugby
Boccia Sailing
Cycling Shooting
Equestrian Swimming
Wheelchair Fencing Table Tennis
Football Wheelchair Tennis
Goalball Volleyball
Alpine Skiing Ice Sledge Hockey
Cross Country Skiing Wheelchair Curling


Remote Provisional Classification

The APC is pleased to announce the launch of our "Remote Provisional Classification Service" for athletes with a disability living in remote and rural areas. The following two documents provide information about this free service, and an application form for remote provisional classification. 

Process for remote provisional classification

Application for remote provisional classification 

National Classification - Classification Calendar

Please click here for the Calendar

Classification Master Lists / Database

National Classification Master Lists 

Until the APC Database Classification Module is fully functional,    Australian classification data held by or provided to the APC will be stored in the form of Classification Master Lists.  These lists will start to become available from end January 2009.  

Athletics – to come

Swimming  – to come 

International Classification Master Lists 

Please follow the links below to the latest version of the Classification Master Lists for various international federations. Please be advised that these lists are maintained by the relevant international federation and APC takes no responsibility for the data contained therein. 

IPC Athletics

For further information

If you are not able to find the information you require in these pages, or if you have an enquiry, please contact: 
Genevieve McMahon
Manager Classification Services
Tel:                   (02) 9704 0513
Post:                PO Box 596 Sydney Markets NSW 2129.