Experts in Sport: Evidence-based classification in Paralympic sport (AUDIO)

With the Tokyo Paralympic Games now well underway, Paralympic athletes will continue to achieve great things on the world’s biggest stage for Para sport.

For viewers watching at home, they might ask themselves “how does the Games decide which athletes are eligible, which aren’t, and how do they decide which athletes compete against each other?”  

In the latest episode of the ‘Experts in Sport’ podcast Loughborough University’s Head of Para Sport Nik Diaper, looks into evidence-based classification in Paralympic sport and the role that research can play in achieving it.  

The group, brought together by Professor Vicky Tolfrey, sees Nik joined by Emma Wiggs MBE, a Paracanoe athlete and 2016 Rio Paralympic Gold Medallist, Iain Gowans, Classification Manager for the British Paralympic Association and Dr Barry Mason, a Senior Research Associate at the University’s Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport – who has since moved to Head of GB Wheelchair Rugby’s Performance team.

During the episode, the panel discuss some of their own experiences with Classification and evidence-based classification research, highlighting the importance of Classification within Paralympic sport: 

“Classification is essential and unique to Paralympic sport. You can't have a Paralympic Games or Para sport without Classification. 

“It’s very much ours, we want and need it to work, evolve and develop,” comments Iain.

The panel also talk about what evidence-based research is and why it is needed, with Dr Mason touching on some of the research undertaken at the Peter Harrison Centre in Loughborough: 

“Evidence-based classification simply means that sports classification systems, and how they allocate athletes into specific classes, need to be underpinned by some form of empirical evidence. 

“You need it, simply because certain systems might be relying too much on the subjective information and when that's the case, some individual athletes might end up becoming disadvantaged compared to others. So, it’s there to objectify the whole process.”

Emma adds: 

'As Paralympic athletes we have to accept that the lines are drawn somewhere, and some of us will be towards the bottom of that group, however it is essential that classification procedures are research based.

“It is absolutely essential that the process of Classification is fundamentally driven on evidence and research, and medical diagnosis to allow it to be as fair as possible. There are still some challenges within it, but for me, as an athlete, the process has evolved over my time in Para sport in a very, very positive way. 

“Hopefully this provides us with the credibility to then go and lay down performances so that the public understand, and there is credible recognition that, this is like for like competing in an as fair as possible situation.” 

The Experts in Sport podcast is a regular series that brings together experts from across Loughborough University with external thought leaders to discuss the latest research and hot topics in sport and academia. 

Listeners can subscribe to the podcast and download the latest episode by visiting iTunesSpotify, and TuneIn. All subscribers will receive an alert once new episodes are published.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/178

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.