London 2012 silver medallist Bethany Woodward has quit Team GB just days before the Paralympic Games ©Getty Images

London 2012 silver medallist Bethany Woodward has claimed that more able-bodied athletes are being wrongly classified to boost medal prospects.

Her comments come just days before the start of the Paralympics here, although she left the sport earlier this year so was not expected to compete at the Games.

The 23-year-old, who finished runner-up in the 200 metres T37 four years ago in London, has spoken out on the issue in The Sunday Times.

Woodward said she had lost faith in the team because more able-bodied athletes were being put into the same categories as more seriously disabled athletes.

"I represented my country for a long time but if I can’t compete like I used to compete, because they’ve brought in people who are not like me in terms of disability, what’s the point?," said the cerebral palsy sufferer.

UK Athletics have told insidethegames that she was "never selected as she did not meet the qualification criteria in order to make the team".

"She has not competed since August 2015 and part of the selection policy for Rio was that athletes had to meet certain standards and show current form and fitness," she said.

Woodward's comments come after it emerged that UK Athletics is set to launch an inquiry into the classification of athletes following the conclusion of the Rio 2016 Paralympics, which are due to begin on Wednesday (September 7). 

Concerns have been raised that some athletes have been able to compete against others who have been significantly more impaired, which would ultimately improve their chances of success.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain’s 11-time Paralympic gold medallist, reportedly expressed her concerns that athletes have gained a competitive advantage due to being mismatched against their opponents to UK Sport, the British Paralympic Association and UK Athletics.

She told the Guardian "it’s absolutely vital that classification is taken seriously" and that "it goes to the heart of the integrity of the sport".

Michael Breen, the father of British Paralympian Olivia Breen who ran with Woodward to claim bronze in the women’s 4x100m relay at London 2012, has also spoken out on the issue.

He lodged a complaint with UK Athletics earlier this year, claiming there had been a "false and reckless" classification of athletes with a view to "increasing British medal opportunities".

Michael Breen, the father of the Paralympian Olivia Breen (pictured), lodged a classification complaint with UK Athletics earlier this year ©Getty Images
Michael Breen, the father of the Paralympian Olivia Breen (pictured), lodged a classification complaint with UK Athletics earlier this year ©Getty Images

"The current classification system is not fit for purpose," said Breen, who has called for an independent investigation of the UK Athletics national classification system and the international classification by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

"Consequently, some athletes have been incorrectly classified."

Classifications are sport specific with UK Athletics taking the role of classifying British track and field competitors, based upon assessments in training and at competitions.

They are also based on medical records of the athletes, with International Federations governing their sport under the rules set out by the IPC.

Paula Dunn, the head coach of UK Athletics' Paralympic team, said earlier this year she intended to step down from her position after Rio 2016 having admitted making comments suggesting a Paralympian was more able-bodied than had been assessed.

She later retracted both her resignation and her comments, a view upheld by an internal UK Athletics inquiry.

Dunn also circulated an e-mail to athletes warning that they will face legal action if they make "baseless allegations" regarding the classification of Paralympic athletes.

Concerns over the issue are not limited to the UK with Helmut Hoffmann, Germany’s team doctor at last year’s IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, telling The Sunday Times he had watched races with athletes he thought had been incorrectly classified.

"I don’t want to say it was corrupt, but it was unfair," he said.

"What we saw in Doha was very young cerebral palsy athletes…beating up the opposition where we’re saying, 'No, they should never be in this class.'"

Italian athlete Oxana Corso says the classification system mocks athletes ©Getty Images
Italian athlete Oxana Corso says the classification system mocks athletes ©Getty Images

Italian athlete Oxana Corso, who has severe cerebral palsy, backed up Woodward’s concerns, saying she felt "duped by a mocking system more focused on putting on a show than supporting disabled athletes".

"I understand how Bethany feels because it’s how I feel," added the 21-year-old.

"I believe the best way to fight for it is to stay on the track and show them they are wrong.

"Never leave when the war is still on.

"I am going to fight this with my nails and my teeth."

Peter Van de Vliet, the IPC’s scientific and medical director, said a number of cases had been challenged in recent months but insisted that "no evidence has been found of cheating, and that cheating is not endemic in Paralympic sport".

National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) were warned against the danger of intentional misrepresentation - where an athlete attempts to cheat the system by gaining a more favourable classification - in August of last year.

Classification is important in all Paralympic sports but particularly swimming, with the IPC revealing in October 2015 that intentional misrepresentation during the evaluation process of athletes was "in grave danger of undermining the credibility of the sport".

Last month, the IPC claimed they had uncovered "no sufficient evidence" of intentional misrepresentation in swimming after they conducted a "thorough examination" of 16 cases.

The organisation also said it had analysed and reviewed the files of 80 individual athletes, spanning 24 countries and six sports, over the previous 12 months.

In July, IPC Medical Committee member Professor Nick Webborn told insidethegames "there are some very positive things happening" in regard to tackling the issue of intentional misrepresentation.

He claimed 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.

"We are aware of a small number of reports in the media that relate to classification, a process in disability and Paralympic sport which allows athletes with an impairment to compete against each other on a level playing field," the British Paralympic Association told insidethegames in a statement.

"Athletes are grouped into classes based on functional ability, and as no two athletes are identical there will naturally be very small degrees of difference in functionality within classes. 

"The classification procedure is designed to minimise discrepancy and maximise fairness in competition. 

"As the National Paralympic Committee for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we are not directly responsible for classifying athletes. 

"However, we work closely with NGBs to ensure all ParalympicsGB athletes competing at the Games have a confirmed classification or a review date post-Games and we work with sports to ensure complete medical records are available for review if required."