The Paralympic system of classification intends to guarantee fair competition between all athletes. Athletes go through the classification process before taking part in a Paralympic competition, during which they are assessed and allocated a sport class in accordance with the degree and nature of their eligible impairments. This classification is carried out by a panel of medical and technical experts responsible for evaluating the impact of their impairment(s) on specific tasks and activities fundamental to the sport and the athlete’s sporting performance. There is no single classification system that applies to all sports due to their history and the way they are played, which is why each discipline has its own system.
Paralympic classification is a functional classification system, in which all athletes who compete in the same category are sure to have similar functional abilities in terms of movement, coordination and balance. This is why athletes with different impairments may be allocated the same sport class and compete against one another.
The classifications outlined below are designated by a letter, typically the initial of the sport (for example S for swimming) and a number. The lower the figure, the greater the impairment, though this is not always the case.
Outfield players must be classified B1 (very low visual acuity and/or no light perception). However, to ensure fair competition, all outfield players must wear eyeshades.
The goalkeeper can be fully sighted or partially sighted (B2 or B3).
“B” stands for “Blind.”
Boccia is split into four classes. BC1 and BC3 athletes may have assistance (BC1 are typically dependent on a powered wheelchair, BC3 can use a ramp), while BC2 and BC4 athletes compete independently.
Sports assistants for BC3 players keep their backs to the game during all innings. They are only present to carry out the player’s commands; they are not allowed to turn around to watch the game, nor are they allowed to advise the player. There is therefore a strong connection between the player and his or her assistant during a match. BC1 player’s assistants BC1 can see the pitch because they are positioned behind the playing area and intervene at the players’ request.
“BC” stands for “Boccia.”
To be eligible, athletes must have less than 10 per cent visual acuity.
Athletes are divided into three categories (“B” standing for ‘Blind’):
- B1: No light perception or inability to recognise a shape.
- B2: Visual acuity not exceeding 1/30th after correction or visual field not exceeding 5°.
- B3: Visual acuity not exceeding 1/10th after correction or visual field not exceeding 20°.
Each player must wear an opaque mask as well as an eye patch to ensure fair competition.
- Open class (recurve bows): archers shoot from a standing position at a distance of 70m at a 122cm target made up of 10 concentric circles scoring from 10 points down to 1 point from the centre outwards.
- Open class (compound bows, for archers with little strength in the arms): archers shoot from a sitting position at a distance of 50m at an 80cm five-ring target made up of the 10-6 point bands.
- W1 (compound bow limited to 45lbs in draw weight and without magnifying sights): quadriplegic archers with an impairment in the lower limbs, trunk and one arm shoot from 50m at a 10-band 80cm target.
Athlete classification is defined by a letter and a number: T for track and jump events and F for field events. Figures represent impairments as follows:
- 11-13: vision impairment
- 20: intellectual impairment
- 31-38: co-ordination impairments
- 40-47: short stature, upper limb competing with prosthesis or equivalent, lower limb competing with prosthesis or equivalent
- T51-54: wheelchair races
- F51-58: seated throws
- 61-64: lower limb competing with prosthesis
- WH1: athletes using a wheelchair with severely impaired leg and trunk function.
- WH2: athletes using a wheelchair with minor impairments to leg and trunk function.
- “WH1” and “WH2” stand for “Wheelchair”
- SL3: athletes competing standing with a lower limb impairment and balance problems walking or running.
- SL4: athletes competing standing with less severe impairment than in SL3. Athletes demonstrate lower limb impairment and minor balance problems walking or running.
- “SL3” and “SL4” stand for “Standing/Lower”
- SU5: athletes in this class have impairment of the upper limbs. The impairment could be on the playing or non-playing hand.
- “SU5” stands for “Standing/Upper”
- SH6: short stature.
- “SH6” stands for “Standing/Short stature”
- KL1-VL1: athletes with no or extremely limited trunk function and no function in the legs.
- KL2-VL2: athletes with partial leg and trunk function, able to sit up straight in the kayak but may require a high-backed seat.
- KL3-VL3: athletes with full function of their trunk and partial function in the legs, able to sit with the trunk bent forwards in the kayak and use at least one leg.
“KL” corresponds to a kayak and double paddle and “VL” corresponds to a pirogue (Va’a) and single paddle.
Para track cycling
Para road cycling
- Solo: five categories, from C1 to C5, practised by athletes competing with prosthesis or limited movement of upper or lower limbs.
- Handcycling: five categories, from H1 to H5, practised by athletes with spinal cord injuries or competing with prosthesis in one or both lower limbs.
- Tricycle: T1 and T2, for athletes with locomotor dysfunction and balance issues (such as cerebral palsy or hemiplegia).
- Tandem: VI, for athletes who are blind or Vision Impaired who compete with a sighted pilot.
“C” stands for “cycling,” “H” for “handbike,” “T” for “tricycle” and B for “blind” (for tandems).
- Grade I : athletes have severe impairments affecting all limbs and the trunk.
- Grade II : athletes have either a severe impairment of the trunk and minimal impairment of the arms or moderate impairment of the trunk, arms, and legs.
- Grade III : athletes have severe impairments in both legs with minimal or no impairment of the trunk or moderate impairment of the arms and legs and trunk.
- Grade IV : athletes have a severe impairment or deficiency of both arms or a moderate impairment of all four limbs or short stature.
- Grade V : athletes have vision impairment or complete blindness or a mildly impaired range of movement or muscle strength or a deficiency of one limb or mild deficiency of two limbs.
The Games programme concerns visually impaired athletes, divided into two categories:
- B1: complete blindness.
- B2-B3: vision impairment.
The judokas are then divided into weight classes.
All athletes with a functional limitation of the lower limbs or hips that prevents them from practising standing weightlifting compete together in different bodyweight categories.
Among these functional limitations are:
- Orthopedic disability
- Cerebral palsy
- Neurological disability
- Paraplegia and tetraplegia
- Progressive neurological disability
There are twenty weight categories: ten for men and ten for women.
Athletes are divided into three categories:
- PR1: single sculls (for individual men and women) reserved for rowers without trunk or leg function using two oars.
- PR2: double sculls (mixed): a team of two rowers (male and female) each of whom has two oars. Reserved for rowers who can only use their upper body to row and their seat is fixed so their legs remain straight.
- PR3: coxed four (mixed): a team of four rowers (two women and two men) and a coxswain, with each rower using one oar. Category for people using their arms, trunk, and legs, with a maximum of two2 visually impaired people in the boat.
S1-S10 / SB1-SB9 / SM1-SM10: physical impairment
The greater the number, the less severe the athlete’s limitation. Athletes with different impairments may compete against one other as sport classes are allocated based on the impact the impairment has on swimming, rather than on the impairment itself.
S / SB / SM11-13: vision impairment
- 11: athletes with a very low visual acuity and/or no light perception. Swimmers must wear blackened goggles during races to ensure fair competition.
- 12: athletes with a higher visual acuity than athletes competing in the S/SB11 sport class and/or a visual field of less than 10 degrees radius.
- 13: athletes with the least severe vision impairment eligible for Paralympic sport. They have the highest visual acuity and/or a visual field of less than 40 degrees radius.
S / SB / SM14: intellectual impairment
Swimmers with an intellectual impairment, which typically leads to athletes having difficulties with regards to pattern recognition, sequencing, and memory; or having a slower reaction time which impacts sport performance in general.
The letters correspond to the swimming style:
- “S” (Swimming): butterfly, backstroke and crawl
- “SB” (Swimming breaststroke): breaststroke
- “SM” (Swimming Multi): multi-swimming events
There are 11 classes in total (five sitting, six standing);, TT1-5 are for wheelchair athletes, TT6-10 are for standing athletes and TT11 is for athletes with intellectual impairments. Table tennis players who have difficulty gripping the racket may use orthotics to attach the racket to the hand or strapping to keep grip of the handle only.
Athletes are divided into two categories (‘K’ for ‘Kyorugi’, or ‘combat’):
- K43 includes athletes with bilateral amputation below the elbow, or equivalent loss of function in both upper limbs.
- K44 includes athletes with unilateral arm amputation (or equivalent loss of function), or loss of toes which impact the ability to lift the heel properly.
Para athletes in the K43 and K44 categories compete together in different bodyweight categories.
Triathlon has nine classes.
- PTWC 1-2: athletes with limitations in lower and upper limbs, using a handcycle for the cycling segment and a racing chair for the running segment. PTWC1 and PTWC2 compete in combined events, with an interval start system per sport class to ensure a level playing field.
- PTS2-5: athletes with limitations in lower and/or upper limbs who do not require a handcycle for the cycling segment or a racing chair for the running segment. Assistive devices such as prosthetic legs and/or bike modifications are allowed.
- PTVI 1-3: athletes with vision impairment. Interval starts ensure a level playing field between partially sighted triathletes and blind triathletes competing with a guide.
The classification is based on the letters “PT” for “Para triathlon” plus the disability category:
- “WC” for “Wheelchair”
- “S” for “Standing”
- “VI” for “Visual impairment”
- SH1: athletes able to hold their gun without difficult and shoot from a standing or sitting position (in a wheelchair or chair). SH1 athletes may use a pistol or a rifle.
- SH2: athletes are unable to hold their rifle independently, so use a stand, but are able to aim by themselves and control the rifle when they shoot. Certain athletes may have an assistant to reload their gun.
‘SH’ stands for ‘Shooting’.
Sitting volleyball has two classes: VS1 and VS2 (athletes with a less severe impairment). Sitting volleyball players demonstrate a physical impairment in one or several upper or lower limbs. Athletes must be able to move around easily and safely in a seated position. Only one VS2 athlete can be on a team’s roster.
Wheelchair basketball players are classified on a point system according to the degree of their impairment(s). Points range from 1 to 4.5, with 1 representing the most severe impairment. At the Paralympic Games, the sum of points for the five players on court for each team must not exceed 14.
Wheelchair fencing is split into two Paralympic categories:
- Category A: fencers in this category must have a disability affecting at least one lower limb.
- Category B: fencers in this category have a disability that does not allow voluntary mobility of the trunk.
Every player is assigned a point value based on their functional ability, from 0.5 for a player with the least physical function through to 3.5 for the most physical function. The total on-court value for each team of four cannot exceed eight points (8.5 points if a female athlete is on the court). Players with the most limited mobility (between 0.5 and 1.5 points) due to their impairment (quadriplegia or equivalent) occupy a primarily defensive position in the game.
Athletes are divided into two categories:
- “Open”: athletes with lower limb impairment.
- “Quad”: athletes with both upper and lower limb impairment.