Sports for people with an impairment have changed drastically over the last few decades, drawing an increase in public awareness, in addition to researchers and scientists.
In the 1970’s, researchers began to show further interest in the development of sport for people with an impairment. Sport Science, the scientific discipline that studies the human movement with the aim of improving the sporting performance, found its application in sport for people with an impairment. Sport Science incorporates research in areas such as physiology, psychology, biomechanics, performance analysis, nutrition and sports technology.
In 1993, the IPC established a Sports Science Committee as an indication of its commitment to the advancement of knowledge of Paralympic Sport. Since then, research has become a prominent feature on the agenda for the IPC.
The work of the IPC and the IPC Sports Science Committee today is centred around five central themes, which are briefly introduced here.
For more information on the IPC Science programme, contact Dr. Peter Van de Vliet, IPC Medical & Scientific Director at [email protected].
Involving the academic world
The IPC Sports Science Committee (SSC) is responsible for creating a culture within the Movement about the value of science and to facilitate dialogue between the Paralympic Movement and the academic world so that the right questions are asked and responded to. The IPC SSC helps the Movement to put clear questions to the scientists and to identify the right partners. Initiatives displayed include:
- Active engagement of the IPC in different scientific conferences, with VISTA and ICSEMIS (see detail in right column) as the most prominent.. The IPC also has signed Memoranda of Agreement with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the International Sports Medicine Federation (FIMS) to strengthen academic partnerships, which also secure a presence of Paralympic sport related items on the respective partner organisation conferences.
- Partnerships with different scientific journals and publishers is looked for under the format of thematic issues. Examples include: Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine (2012, issue 1: Paralympic Winter Games Research), British Journal of Sports Medicine (2013, issue 7: Paralympic Games Research) and Sports Technology (2012, issue 1-2 : Paralympic Sport Technology). Special reference should be given to the publication of the first comprehensive guide to Paralympic athletes providing practical information on the medical issues, biological factors in the performance of the sports and physical conditioning. This book “The Paralympic Athlete” was published as part of the IOC-series ‘Handbooks of sports medicine and science.’ under the patronage of the Medical Commission of the International Olympic Committee
- The IPC is committed to furthering research in the areas of interest of the Paralympic Movement, and facilitates research projects at IPC events, IPC sanctioned competitions and during Paralympic Games. Details on the procedures can be found in the right column.
Athlete health and safety
In partnership with the IPC Medical Committee, different research projects are initiated to increase Para specific considerations in sports participation. Recent initiatives include:
- Under the 2006 WADA Social Science Grant programme and on behalf of the IPC, the University of Alberta, Canada co-ordinated a study on ‘Autonomic dysreflexia and boosting’. In summary, 99 athletes, vulnerable to autonomic dysreflexia, participated in a questionnaire survey and only a little over half had previously heard of boosting. However, they were strongly opposed to the use of boosting to improve training capacity, enhance performance during competition, and because their competitors were using it. The study generated a series of recommendations that IPC will use as a guideline to develop educational programmes and revisit its event-boosting monitoring programme. The full report can be retrieved from WADA.
- Under the 2009 WADA Science Grants programme, the Swiss Paraplegic Centre (Switzerland) and Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), conducted a study on the potential performance enhancement effect of Sildenafil (at very high altitudes). This study was initiated in response to WADA adding Sildenafil to the monitoring List for Prohibited Substances in 2008. Many athletes with a spinal-cord injury use these medications to treat erectile dysfunction of neurologic origin. Therefore, it was important to understand what effects, if any, this class of medications has on athletic performance in athletes with spinal cord injury. A total of 27 competitive wheelchair athletes of different sports (e.g. athletics, handcycling, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, alpine skiing) were tested on an armcrank ergometer after the ingestion of either 50mg sildenafil citrate or placebo one hour before testing. Results showed that sildenafil ingestion did not develop any meaningful improvement in exercise capacity (n=27) or performance (n=15) neither at sea level nor at moderate altitude. In contrast, a negative impact on oxygen saturation, heart rate and lactate concentrations was found for the majority of the tested athletes at moderate altitude. Thus, the use of sildenafil citrate does not lead to ergogenic effects in athletes with spinal cord injury. As a consequence, there seems to be no need to put this substance on the WADA (world anti-doping agency) list of prohibited substances. The full report can be retrieved from WADA.
Evidence-based classification research
The IPC Sports Science Committee supports the activities of the IPC Classification Committee and the Membership to achieve IPC Classification Code compliance by facilitating IFs, classifiers and researchers to understand and implement the IPC Position Stand on Background and Scientific Rationale for Classification in Paralympic Sports (IPC Handbook, Section 2, Chapter 4.4).
Further detail on the evidence-based classification research agenda can be retrieved from the classification pages of the IPC website.
Socio-economic determinants of Paralympic participation and success
SPLISS (Sports Policy factors Leading to International Sporting Success) has been initiated by a consortium of Universities as a sports policy model for sporting success. This model has been applied in an able-bodied sports environment to 16 countries with medium to high Gross Domestic Products (GDP’s). The applicability to countries with low GDP per capita and to the Para sport environment is not straight forward due to the unique nature of Para sport structures across the world. In the new composition of the SSC, an expert in sport management, involved in the two SPLISS rounds, is proposed. The IPC Sports Science Committee actively engages with the SPLISS Consortium in developing a Para sport model which will be piloted in the Paralympic Movement. The outcomes of this model will provide information to the IPC on geographical initiatives to be taken, gender/cultural differences in sport, the relationship between classification – participation, and many other socio-economic determinants of participation and success.
Paralympic athletes, trainers and coaches education
Translation of academic knowledge to the Paralympic athlete’s career is of upmost importance to achieve the best performance possible under healthy conditions. Advanced training methods and techniques, innovative technology and instrumentation, improved knowledge on nutrition and nutritional supplements, etc. should reach the athlete and his/her coach. As a first initiative in this thematic priority, the IPC Sports Science Committee has led on the development of an online coaching module which will become part of the IPC Academy learning tools (available soon from the IPC Academy website).