What is Classification?
How is a sport classification allocated to an athlete?
PNZ Guide to Classification (PDF 200kb)
PNZ Classification Handbook (PDF 600kb)
What is Classification?
Classification provides a structure for competition. Athletes competing in
Paralympic Sports have an impairment that leads to a competitive disadvantage in
sport. Consequently, a system has to be put in place to minimise the impact of
impairments on sport performance and to ensure the success of an athlete is
determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental
This system is called classification. Classification determines who is eligible
to compete in a Paralympic Sport and it groups the eligible athletes in sport
classes according to their activity limitation in a certain sport.
The Paralympic Movement offers sport opportunities for athletes with physical,
visual and intellectual impairments and these can be divided into 10 eligible
impairment types. There are eight different types of physical impairments in the
Impaired muscle power: With impairments in this category, the force
generated by muscles, such as the muscles of one limb, one side of the body or
the lower half of the body is reduced, e.g. due to spinal-cord injury, spina
bifida or polio.
Impaired passive range of movement: Range of movement in one or more
joints is reduced in a systematic way. Acute conditions such as arthritis are
Loss of limb or limb deficiency: There is a total or partial absence of
bones or joints as a consequence of amputation due to illness or trauma or
congenital limb deficiency (e.g. dysmelia).
Leg-length difference: Significant bone shortening occurs in one leg due
to congenital deficiency or trauma.
Short stature: Standing height is reduced due to shortened legs, arms and
trunk, which are due to a musculoskeletal deficit of bone or cartilage
Hypertonia: Hypertonia is marked by an abnormal increase in muscle
tension and reduced ability of a muscle to stretch. Hypertonia may result from
injury, disease, or conditions which involve damage to the central nervous
system (e.g. cerebral palsy).
Ataxia: Ataxia is an impairment that consists of a lack of co-ordination
of muscle movements (e.g. cerebral palsy, Friedreich’s ataxia).
Athetosis: Athetosis is generally characterized by unbalanced,
involuntary movements and a difficulty maintaining a symmetrical posture (e.g.
cerebral palsy, choreoathetosis).
In addition to athletes with physical impairment, athletes with a visual or
intellectual impairment are also included in the Paralympic Movement.
Visual impairment: Visual Impairment occurs when there is damage to one
or more of the components of the vision system, which can include:
- impairment of the eye structure/receptors
- impairment of the optic nerve/optic pathways
- impairment of the visual cortex
Intellectual Impairment: Athletes with an intellectual impairment are
limited in regards to intellectual functions and their adaptive behavior, which
is diagnosed before the age of 18 years.
Classification systems differ by sport and were developed by the International
Federations (IF) governing the sport.
IFs decide which impairment types their sport will cater for. Some Paralympic
sports are only designed for athletes with one impairment type. Goalball, for
example, is only open for athletes with visual impairment. Other sports, such as
Athletics and Swimming, are open to athletes in any of the 10 impairment groups.
IFs also decide how severe impairment has to be in order for an athlete to be
eligible to compete in their sport. For an athlete to be eligible the impairment
must be severe enough that it impacts his or her sport performance.
Since different sports require different abilities, each sport logically
requires its own classification system. For example, an impairment of the arms
affects performance in a running event in Athletics to a lesser extent than it
affects performance in Swimming.
A sport class is a category which groups athletes depending on how much their
impairment impacts performance in their sport. Therefore, a sport class is not
necessarily comprised of one impairment type alone, but can be comprised of
athletes with different impairments. However, these different impairments affect
sport performance to a similar extent. For example, you will find athletes with
paraplegia and double above-the-knee amputation competing in the same sport
class in IPC Athletics because their different impairments have a comparable
effect on their 1,500m wheelchair racing performance.
In individual sports, athletes compete against athletes in their own sport class
to ensure the impact of impairment is minimized. In Rowing, for example,
athletes compete in three sport classes, depending on whether they use their
arms only, their arms and trunk only, or their arms, trunk and legs to
accelerate the boat.
In national events and smaller international competitions athletes in different
sport classes may compete together for one medal, because there are not enough
athletes for each sport class to create a competitive event. In these cases, the
different sport classes are replaced by coefficients to take the different
levels of activity limitations into account.
Some Paralympic sports only have one Sport class, such as Powerlifting. To
compete in these sports, the athletes only need to meet the minimal impairment
In team sports such as Wheelchair Rugby, the players are allocated points, which
indicate their activity limitation. A lower score indicates a more severe
activity limitation than a higher score. A team is not allowed to have more than
a certain maximum sum of points on the field of play at the same time in order
to ensure equal competition with the opposing team.
How is a sport class allocated to an athlete?
A sport class is allocated through athlete evaluation by classifiers. Each IF
trains and certifies classifiers to conduct classification in its sport.
Classifiers for athletes with the various physical impairments listed above
either have a (para-) medical background or are technical experts in their
sport. Athletes with visual impairment are classified by classifiers with a
background in ophthalmology or optometry. Psychologists and sport experts are
involved with classification for athletes with intellectual impairment.
Classification takes place before competitions. Therefore, athletes who need to
be classified arrive at the competition a few days earlier to undergo
classification and to be allocated a sport class. During the evaluation process,
classifiers follow the Classification Rules of the IF.
Depending on the impairment an athlete might undergo classification several
times throughout his or her career. Some impairments change over time, e.g.
visual acuity might decrease over time or hypertonia may increase. Also, junior
athletes may not yet have reached skeletal maturity by the time of first
classification (e.g. IPC Swimming). In these cases, classifiers can decide that
the athlete has to be seen again at the next competition or later.
Provisional classifications are temporary classifications allocated to an
athlete and are valid until such time the athlete can be classified by a
Provisional classifications may be allocated to an athlete for a specific
sport in one of, but not limited to, the following situations:
- At an international event
where a classification panel is not available
- At a national event where a classification panel is not available
- As a national entry level for athletes new to the sport.
Provisional classifications may be allocated by:
- A classifier in a face to
face consultation in conjunction with a medical certificate of diagnosis.
- A classifier on receipt of a medical diagnosis form and provisional
A provisional classification is valid for a limited period of time, as dictated
by the International Federations (IF) or National Federations (NF) and may be
subject to change upon classification assessment by the sports specific
Athletes may be eligible for medals, as dictated by the IF and/or NF but the
athlete will not be eligible for records.
You can be assessed and a provisional
classification can be allocated to you simply by completing the attached forms
relevant to your primary disability.
PNZ Provisional Classification Form - Physical Disabilities
PNZ Provisional Classification Form - Visual Disabilities
PNZ Provisional Classification Form -
A national classification is a sport specific classification carried out by a
classification panel trained by the IF, or under the training recommendations
set by the IF.
The classification process is the same process administered by the IF and
outlined within this document.
A national classification is generally offered at national sport events where
medals and records can be allocated to those athletes with a national
Classification (in New Zealand)
Athletics: Rebecca Foulsham
Boccia: Kerry Jenkinson
Bowls: Vicki Melville
Cycling: Marguerite Christophers
Equestrian: Vicki Melville
Rowing: Tamsin Chittock
Sailing: Paula Cunningham
Snow Sports: TBC
Swimming: Ruth McLaren
Table Tennis: Henry Redmond
Triathlon: Marguerite Christophers
Wheelchair Basketball: Geoff Palmer
Wheelchair Rugby: Deborah Duffield
Who can I contact to find
out more information?
For more information contact: