A global classification expert has revealed to ITV News the extraordinary lengths para athletes will go to cheat the system, all in the pursuit of medal success.
The expert - who did not want to be identified, such is the fear of retribution within the sport - said the situation is so bad that one athlete even turned down an operation to improve her mobility because she feared she’d end up competing in a less disabled and therefore more competitive class.
“It’s got to a stage where parents are pushing hard for their children to be considered more disabled than they actually are. It’s tragic.” he said.
He recounted another case of a swimmer who elected to undergo surgery to shorten a limb because he knew as a result he’d be moved into a class where he had a better chance of winning.
In recent weeks many examples of how disabled athletes set out to deceive classifiers have emerged. They range from taping up limbs, powerful medication and long cold showers to stiffen up joints and muscles before an athlete is assessed.
The expert told us that while those tricks were common they did not tell the whole story. The reality he says is even worse as athletes are heavily coached in the weeks before classification on how to fool their testers.
In addition to heavy exercise to tire themselves out and avoiding all the usual stretching to keep their limbs flexible, he said athletes are also trained to:
- Perform well below their best during a test
- Carry themselves or behave in a way that exaggerates their disability
- Answer the testers expected questions
- Appear more disabled during their physical assessment
These techniques are practised repeatedly and often prove successful because, the expert claims, many testers are not qualified or experienced enough to carry out their roles efficiently.
He continued: "The testers routinely miss part of the test. In swimming especially, they don’t even understand the biomechanics of a stroke or have a detailed understanding of the disability. In addition, they don’t carry out observation tests."
The classification expert concluded by saying that he’s not surprised by the current controversy, adding “it’s a massive mess and it’s been coming for years.”