The IPC Classification Committee "has really tried to move towards" addressing the problem of intentional misrepresentation in Para-sport, it has been claimed ©IPC

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Classification Committee "has really tried to move towards" addressing the problem of intentional misrepresentation in Para-sport, it has been claimed.

Professor Nick Webborn, medical director of the Sussex Centre for Sport and Exercise Science and Medicine at the University of Brighton, and the chief medical officer for the British Paralympic team during London 2012, told insidethegames "there are some very positive things happening" in this regard.

Classification is important in all Paralympic sports but particularly swimming, with the IPC revealing in October of last year that intentional misrepresentation during the evaluation process of athletes was "in grave danger of undermining the credibility of the sport".

An e-mail seen by insidethegames, sent by IPC chief executive Xavier Gonzalez to National Paralympic Committee and National Federation Presidents, outlined the issue and described it as a "serious problem".

Webborn, a member of the IPC Medical Committee since 2014, believes classification remains one of the biggest challenges for Paralympic sport - both in terms of how the public understand it and the fairness of the assessment - but thinks steps are being taken to overcome it.

"It’s more about what’s the impact of your impairment on your ability to do that sport rather than the old medical model of assessment," he said.

"But I do think it’s possible for people to kind of not show their full ability.

"I also think it’s difficult sometimes that kids get permanent classifications and they change with growth spurts.

"You get a 14-year-old or 15-year-old boy and then he hits puberty and suddenly you get a great change in shape and muscle mass and so on, and I think you need to be cautious about the awarding of permanent classes."

Intentional misrepresentation has previously been described as a
Intentional misrepresentation has previously been described as a "serious problem" in Para-swimming ©Getty Images

Webborn, a former representative of Great Britain in wheelchair tennis, added: "Swimming is particularly difficult because there are multiple impairment types within the same class.

"For example, you have someone who is paraplegic swimming against someone with cerebral palsy, against someone with other deficiencies, and saying that you’re all equally impaired with completely different types of impairment.

"That’s really the challenge I think for Para-sport because with that dividing line which has to come in, you can be world champion or a no hoper." 

In February, 14-time Paralympic swimming champion Erin Popovich was appointed as the athlete representative on the IPC Classification Committee.

The American, who also won 11 world titles during a glittering career, retired in 2010 and joined the United States Olympic Committee shortly afterwards as the classification and emerging sports programme administrator.

Established in 2004, the IPC Classification Committee was set-up to provide advice and consultation on issues related to the classification of athletes in the Paralympic Movement.

The Committee, which was previously a subcommittee of the Medical Committee, is comprised of six members, including chairperson Anne Hart, another American.

Germany's Jürgen Schwittai, South African Scott Field, Australian Sean Tweedy and Britain's Graham Arthur make up the group.

Between them, the half-dozen members can make strategic recommendations related to the ongoing evaluation and further development of classification systems of all sports in the Paralympic Movement.