The International Paralympic Committee’s decision to declare some wheelchair basketball players ineligible for the Tokyo Paralympics “grossly violates the athletes’ rights”, says Global Athlete.
The international athlete-led movement has called on the IPC to allow all team members who qualified for Tokyo 2020 to play at next year’s rescheduled Games.
It comes after the sport’s governing body was told it needed to change its classification regulations to comply with the IPC’s code.
In doing so, the IPC required the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) to reclassify players and, as a result, exclude some who no longer met the new criteria.
The IPC warned that failure by the IWBF to act could result in the sport being removed from future Paralympics, including next year’s rescheduled Tokyo Games.
“Athlete groups have taken notice of the IPC’s decision to change athlete classification rules at the end of a Paralympic cycle, resulting in a direct and drastic impact on athletes,” Global Athlete said in an open letter.
“These athletes have sacrificed and worked tirelessly for years to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“The unilateral decision made by the IPC to remove players from their teams who rightfully qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics is illegal and violates the athletes’ fundamental rights.
“A broad consensus exists among athletes and legal advisors internationally that the belated reassessment of certain players is unlawful and grossly violates the athletes’ rights. Thus, the IPC’s attempts need to be vigorously opposed, and the issue must be resolved expeditiously.”
In July, Great Britain’s George Bates told BBC Sport how he may have to consider having his leg amputated to continue his international career as he would be deemed ineligible to play by the IPC’s classification code.
It is a decision also being considered by GB Academy player Oscar Knight, who has the same condition – complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) – as Bates.
Athletes who have a lower limb amputation are among those eligible to compete.
International players are classified between 1.0 (most impaired) and 4.5 (least impaired), and the IPC required all 4.0 and 4.5 players to go through reclassification before Tokyo. Bates was originally classified as a 4.5 player.
In a statement to BBC Sport, the IPC said: “Since the Code was approved in 2015, the IPC has been working with all International Federations to ensure compliance with the Code by the deadline of 1 January 2018.
“Despite our best efforts and continued offers of support, the IWBF has been reluctant to align with the IPC Athlete Classification Code or propose acceptable solutions to the matter.
“No sport is above the rules and in January 2020 the IPC’s frustration with the IWBF reached breaking point. The IPC Governing Board, half of which is made up of former Para athletes, acted with the whole athlete community’s best interests at heart.”
It added that it wanted to “protect the rights of all eligible wheelchair basketball players”.
What is the background?
The IWBF defines eligible impairments differently to those agreed by the IPC general assembly in 2015 and defined in the IPC athlete classification code.
The IPC believes this has led to athletes competing who have impairments which are not covered by the IPC code. It wants all athletes due to compete in Tokyo in the 4.0 and 4.5 classes – for the least-impaired athletes – to have their eligibility reassessed to decide whether they can play at the Games.
Those whose impairments are not eligible under the IPC code will not be allowed to compete.
The IPC says if the requested action plan is not being complied with, the sport could be excluded from the Tokyo Games. It has also been excluded from the Paris 2024 Games and will only be brought back in if the IWBF becomes fully compliant with the IPC’s regulations by no later than the end of August 2021.
Wheelchair basketball has been part of the Paralympic movement since the first Games in Rome in 1960. It is the third-biggest at the Games, with 264 athletes due to compete in Tokyo across male and female competitions.