As an outcome of the historical development and the growth of the Paralympic Movement each sport has developed its own system of classification. While the majority of these share key features, there is considerable variability on a range of fundamental issues. These include: the definition of key terms, the basis for determining minimum disability criteria and the measurement methods. The IPC has recognised the need to co-ordinate classification, which led to the development of the IPC Classification Code. This aims, ‘to support and co-ordinate the development and implementation of accurate, reliable and consistent sport focused classification systems’ (Code, Introduction).
This includes the mandate for the development of evidence-based systems of classification (Code, art. 15.2).
Sean Tweedy, member of the IPC Classification Committee and Yves Vanlandewijck, chairperson of the IPC Sports Science Committee, wrote a scientific paper on the “Background and Scientific Rationale for Classification in Paralympic Sport,” which the IPC adopted as the official position on research in classification (IPC Handbook, Section 2, Chapter 4.4). As a consequence of now having a conceptual framework for Paralympic classification (Classification Code and Position Stand), Paralympic systems of classification must:
be consistent with the taxonomy and terminology of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF),
be based on scientific evidence,
define eligible types of impairment (by sport),
define minimum impairment criteria, and
classify impairments according to the extent of activity limitation caused.
All sports now initiate self-auditing processes determining the extent of compliance with the above provisions.
In recent years the concept of expert meetings has proven a successful means of sharing knowledge, expertise and resources. This is done through bringing together: academics, sport scientists and Paralympic sport experts. The academics are instrumental in assessing impairment, and sports scientists supported the development of able-bodied equivalents of Paralympic sports. The complementary expertise of these key players ensures the further development of Paralympic classification systems. Thus, ensuring these systems focus on the development of objective, reliable methods for measuring both the core constructs of the model (impairment and activity limitation).
In order to support the activities across sports in the Paralympic Movement, the IPC has engaged three universities to assist the co-ordination of the classification research agenda, each centre being dedicated to one particular impairment type:
Athletes with physical impairment - School of Human Movement Studies, University of Queensland, Australia (Sean Tweedy)
Athletes with intellectual impairment - Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium (Yves Vanlandewijck)
Athletes with visual impairment - Faculty of Human Movement Sciences, Free University Amsterdam, Netherlands (David Mann)
Aside from leading sport specific classification research projects, these centres facilitate exchange of knowledge and dialogue with classification research groups to align concepts and applications across sports. They also assist sports and the IPC in delivering classifier training and provide advice on the further development of classification in the Paralympic Movement. The activities of the centres are supervised by the IPC Classification Research Steering Group, which is comprised of athletes, IPC Classification Committee and IPC Sports Science Committee members.