The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has confirmed that over the last 12 months it has looked into 16 potential cases of intentional misrepresentation in IPC Swimming and determined that in all cases there is insufficient evidence to take any cases forward.
In August 2015, the IPC issued an advisory to all National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) participating in IPC Swimming stating that misconduct by athletes or athlete support personnel would not be tolerated.
Following this, IPC Swimming identified 16 cases from swimming competitions in 2015 where there were discrepancies in performances – athletes swimming slower during classification observation than during other races – which might cause the IPC to question an athletes’ respective classification results.
Each case was examined thoroughly. This included the review of competition footage and further examinations of each athlete’s classification record. The resulting determination was that the IPC would take no further action in each case.
Xavier Gonzalez, the IPC’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “The IPC treats intentional misrepresentation in any Para sport as a very serious offence. It is one that can lead to a two-year suspension for an athlete and/or athlete support personnel.
“To prove a case of intentional misrepresentation, the IPC must present corroborating evidence that is capable of meeting the legal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”. This standard is commonly used when adjudicating bodies are required to make determinations of fraud.
“A standalone fluctuating race time does not mean that an athlete is intentionally misrepresenting skills or abilities, nor does it mean an athlete is in the wrong sport class. If it did, classification systems would unfairly disadvantage athletes who improve race times through hard work and intensive training.
“To date, the only credible evidence that has been uncovered in the past year concerns fluctuating race times. Consequently, and following our careful review, no cases of intentional misrepresentation have been initiated on the basis of athlete performances during 2015 competitions.”
Following this review, the IPC has instructed and emphasised to all sport classifiers that they hold the authority to adjourn their decision making on sport class and sport class status if a noteworthy fluctuation in athlete performance is observed.
Impact on other Para sports
The IPC’s announcement in August 2015 that it was looking into a number of potential cases of intentional misrepresentation in IPC Swimming, led to a flurry of requests to the IPC to review individual classification cases across a number of sports. The requests originated from NPCs, parents, peer athletes, concerned spectators and also the sports themselves.
In total, the IPC reviewed the individual files of more than 80 athletes from 24 countries across six sports in the last 12 months.
Every single case has undergone an internal assessment co-ordinated by the IPC Medical & Scientific Director with the engagement of Heads of Classification, Classification Advisory Groups, International Classifiers, IPC Classification Committee members and third-party expertise depending on the circumstances of each case.
In the nine cases where the IPC was not the International Federation (IF), follow-up was initiated with the responsible IF.
This led to an unprecedented number of working hours spent on the identification, verification, analysis and reporting of cases. In addition to the above review process, the IPC has engaged external legal counsel to compile information and intelligence on certain cases.
Gonzalez said: “The number of cases we have reviewed in the last year is unprecedented and the result of a number of factors, including the fact that everything is leading up to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
“The review of the 80 plus cases revealed no instances where the IPC could reasonably allege intentional misrepresentation. In many cases, the information brought forward amounted to nothing more than allegations without substantive grounds.
“However, different remedial actions were initiated. This included follow up with different NPCs to complement available medical diagnostic information on different athletes as part of the assessment, and a number of athletes were brought back in for re-assessment in accordance with the appropriate rules and regulations.”
With Rio 2016 fast approaching, the IPC has reinforced the message to classifiers in all sports to be on the look-out for any potential cases of intentional misrepresentation and what role athlete personnel may be playing.
Gonzalez added: “The IPC remains fully committed to tackle any attempt to abuse classification by athletes or athlete support personnel, as well as any practice that aims to interfere with the work of the classifiers. I reiterate my message to NPCs to enforce the applicable rules and regulations to all athletes and athlete support personnel in your teams.
“The IPC firmly acknowledges that the classification environment requires continued attention. Over the past years dialogue with IFs and NPC classification experts has intensified and more sports and IFs have recognised the urgent need for investments in research, classifier training and certification, and potentially some revisions of classification systems.”