Paralympic Classification Explained

I very much enjoyed the boxing from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, some Great British performances.  Enjoying it though, at no point did I think it would be a good idea, more importantly, good sport for the heavy weights to pile in against the feathers.  This is classification. No more, no less.

A system to ensure fairness in competition whilst not having so many classes that competition evaporates.  Essentially, the fairest system of classification would have a class for each and every one of us, we are unique so just so, but it wouldn’t make much competition or sport, similarly, a system with no classes would have no fairness or sport.

Classification in Paralympic sport is not really any different, underpinned by these principles.  Is it perfect? Of course it’s not. Does it work? Pretty much and like all good systems is always under review to see where changes and improvements might be considered.

Just as in boxing we wouldn’t think it fair or good sport for the heavies to go in against the feathers, in Paralympic sport one would hardly think it good sport for a quadriplegic, with no use of any of their limbs to have to compete against an athlete who is a single below the knee amputee.

Paralympic sport is just that, sport.  Classification shouldn’t and must not be allowed to get in the way of the spectator experience, the ability to come and enjoy, in venue or on TV world class sport.  However, a little knowledge, an intro into how the classes work does help in this experience, this enjoyment.

To this end, Great British Paralympic gold medallist Giles Long invented a system to demystify classification, to bring it into the sports presentation and through that increase the understanding and enjoyment of and excitement for Paralympic sport.  He called it Lexi.

Lexi is a graphical way of representing the classification system at the Paralympics, aiming to simplify the system that gives the Games the structure for fair competition. Short for Lexicon Decoder, Lexi uses colour-coded graphics to show the type and level of impairment within sporting classes, green for no impairment up to red for a severe impairment.

Paralympic classification contains many numbers and letters, it is Lexi which cuts through this algebraic mist, enabling a quick route into spectating as anyone would non disabled sport.

Why is a swimmer with dwarfism racing against someone with no arms? Seemingly unfair at first glance, Lexi puts in the graphical explanation as to why this is quite rightly the case.

‘It overrides the “expert” system because viewers are having it explained to them in a different way,’

‘Swimming is the only sport where you get seemingly very different competitors up against each other. Some will be wheelchair users, some on crutches and some might seem to have no disability at all.’

‘The crucial point is that it’s not about how you walk down the street, it’s about how you’re affected in a sporting arena.

‘If people can understand the classification system, they are on their way to enjoying disability sport. It is one of the major obstacles, people need to understand that it is a fair playing field.’

‘With any system, there is room for improvement. Within the bandings some people are at the top and others at the bottom.’

Giles Long, Creator of LEXI

So, as our Great British Paralympians settle in at Tokyo 2020 they will be focussing 100% on delivering the greatest sporting performances of their lives.  By having just the necessary level of understanding of the classification system, everyone across the UK and beyond will be able to roar them on for just this, their sport.  Paralympic sport is sport first, world class sport, classification an enabler not a barrier or blocker.  It is helpful to understand a little, Ellie Simmonds or Lee Pearson’s Paralympic class, for sure it is helpful, more than that though, once through this, the reality is just this, to understand, appreciate and roar them on as world class.

Channel 4 will enable all of us to ‘be’ with our Great British Paralympians in Tokyo later this month.  World class sport, world class British Paralympians on the world class Great British Paralympic broadcaster, our very own, all of ours: Channel 4.

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