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Experts in Sports: Evidence-Based Classification in Paralympic Sports

With the Tokyo Paralympic Games in full swing, Paralympic athletes will continue to do great things on the world’s largest parasport stage.

Viewers watching at home might ask, “How do the Games decide which athletes are eligible and which are not, and how do they decide which athletes will compete against each other?”

In the latest installment of the Experts in Sport podcast, Loughborough University Parasport Director Nik Diaper examines the evidence-based classification in Paralympic sport and the role research can play in it.

The group, put together by Professor Vicky Tolfrey, sees Nik along with Emma Wiggs MBE, a Paracanoe athlete and 2016 Rio Paralympic gold medalist, Iain Gowans, British Paralympic Association Classification Manager, and Dr. Barry Mason, Senior Research Associate at the University of Peter Harrison Center for Disability Sport – who has since moved to lead the GB Wheelchair Rugby performance team.

During the episode, the panel discusses some of their own experiences with classification and evidence-based classification research, highlighting the importance of classification in Paralympic sport:

“Classification is essential and unique in Paralympic sport. You cannot play Paralympic Games or Para-Sports without classification.

“It belongs to us very much, we want and need it in order to function, develop and develop,” comments Iain.

The panel also talks about what evidence-based research is and why it is needed, with Dr. Mason addresses some of the research done at the Peter Harrison Center in Loughborough:

“Evidence-based classification simply means that sports classification systems and how they classify athletes must be backed up by some form of empirical evidence.

“They need it simply because some systems rely too much on subjective information and if that is the case, individual athletes could be disadvantaged compared to others. So it is there to objectify the entire process. “

Emma adds:

“As Paralympic athletes we have to accept that the lines are drawn somewhere and that some of us will be at the end of that group, but it is important that the classification procedures are research-based.

“It is absolutely essential that the classification process be based on fundamental evidence and research and medical diagnosis so that it can be as fair as possible. There are still some challenges in this, but for me as an athlete, the process has developed very, very positively over the course of my time in parasport.

“Hopefully that gives us the credibility to then put performances down in a way that the public will understand, and it gives credible recognition that this is like a competition in as fair a situation as possible.”

The Experts in Sport podcast is a regular series that brings together experts from across Loughborough University with outside thought leaders to discuss the latest research and current topics in sport and science.

Listeners can subscribe to the podcast and download the latest episode by visiting iTunes, Spotify, and TuneIn. All subscribers will receive a notification as soon as new episodes are released.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/178

Loughborough is one of the leading universities in the country with an international reputation for important research, excellent teaching, close ties to industry and unmatched performance in sport and the underlying academic disciplines.

It was awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme and was named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the QS World University Ranking 2021 and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, ranking 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 7th in the UK Complete University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked among the top 20 British universities in the Times Higher Education’s Table of Tables and among the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has received seven Queen’s Anniversary Prizes.

Loughborough University London’s campus is based on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and managerial education, research and business opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers, and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality teaching and the latest in modern thinking.

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