International Paralympic Committee (IPC)
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International Paralympic Committee (IPC)


The Paralympic Movement offers sport opportunities for athletes of the following 10 impairment types:

  • Impaired muscle power: Impairments in this category have in common that there is reduced force generated by the contraction of a muscle or muscle groups (e.g. muscles of one limb, one side of the body, the lower half of the body). Examples of condtions included in this category are para and quadriplegia, muscular dystrophy, post poliomyelitis, spina bifida.
  • Impaired passive range of movement: Range of movement in one or more joint is reduced in systematical way. Note that hypermobility of joints, joint instability (e.g. shoulder dislocation), and acute conditions of reduced range of movement (e.g. arthritis types of impairment) typically will be excluded as ‘eligible impairment’.
  • Limb deficiency: There is a total or partial absence of the bones or joints as a consequence of trauma (e.g. traumatic amputation), illness (e.g. bone cancer) or congenital limb deficiency (e.g. dysmelia)
  • Leg-length difference: Due to congenital deficiency or trauma, bone shortening occurs in one leg.
  • Short stature: Standing height is reduced due to aberrant dimensions of bones of upper and lower limbs or trunk (e.g. achondoplasia)
  • Hypertonia: A condition marked by an abnormal increase in muscle tension and a reduced ability of a muscle to stretch. Hypertonia may result from injury, disease, or conditions that involve damage to the central nervous system. When the injury occurs in children under the age of 2, the term cerebral palsy is often used.
  • Ataxia: A neurological sign and symptom that consists of a lack of co-ordination of muscle movements.
  • Athetosis: This can vary from mild to severe motor dysfunction. It is generally characterized by unbalanced, involuntary movements of muscle tone and a difficulty maintaining a symmetrical posture.
  • Vision impairment: Vision is impacted by either an impairment of the eye structure, optical nerves or optical pathways, or visual cortex of the central brain.
  • Intellectual Impairment: The Paralympic Movement identifies intellectual impairment as “a disability characterized by significant limitation both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills. This disability originates before the age of 18” (American Association on Intellectual and Development Disability, 2010). The diagnostics of intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior must be made using internationally recognized and professionally administered measures as recognized by INAS (International Federation for sport for para-athletes with an intellectual disability).

The Paralympic Movement adopted the definitions for the eligible impairment types as described in the World Health Organization International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (2001, World Health Organization, Geneva).

Each Paralympic Sport has to clearly define for which impairment groups they provide sports opportunities. This is described in the Classification Rules of each sport. While some sports include athletes of all impairment types (e.g. Athletics, Swimming), other sports are limited to one impairment type (e.g. Goalball, Boccia) or a selection of impairment types (e.g. Equestrian, Para-Cycling).

The presence of an applicable eligible impairment is a prerequisite but not the sole criterion of entry into a particular Paralympic Sport.

Fair and equal competition
To ensure competition is fair and equal, all Paralympic sports have a system in place which ensures that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, the same factors that account for success in sport for able bodied athletes.

This process is called classification and its purpose is to minimize the impact of impairments on the competition outcome. Through classification, it is determined which athletes are eligible to compete in a sport and how athletes are grouped together for competition to achieve the above. This, to a certain extent, is similar to grouping athletes by age, gender or weight. In Paralympic Sport, athletes are grouped by the degree of activity limitation resulting from the impairment. Such groups are named Sport Classes.

Classification is sport-specific, and as a result, an athlete may meet the criteria in one sport, but may not meet the criteria in another sport.

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