Some of Britains most successful Paralympic athletes are set to face suggestions they have won their gold medals unfairly at a parliamentary hearing today investigating whether the category system is fit for purpose
Some of Britain’s most successful Paralympic athletes are set to face suggestions they have won their gold medals unfairly at a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday investigating whether the classification system is fit for purpose.
Michael Breen, the parent of the Paralympian Olivia Breen and a prominent category campaigner, has accused UK Athletics- the governing body for the sport in this country- of “manipulating” the system in order to win more medals. He claims they are knowingly fielding athletes in races or events where their disability is significantly less affecting than their challengers. Breen, whose daughter has cerebral palsy and is a long jump world champion, will use parliamentary privilege to name the athletes who he believes are competing in the incorrect categories and expects it to result in a” significant backlash “.
Breen, a Belfast-born lawyer, has railed against perceived abuse of the classification system for years but this is the first time his concerns will be heard by government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee. The International Paralympic Committee is the umbrella organisation which oversees the classification system across 10 different disability athletics. They are supposed to ensure athletes compete against others with a similar level of disability but Breen suggests it absence proper rigour.
” This hearing is monumental ,” Breen said.” You can tell that by the way the IPC has been trying to get it house in order .”
Breen, who is representing a group of mothers, will tell MPs he believes UK Athletics is exposing inadequacies in the system , notably that not all classifiers are required to be medical doctors.
” The chief classifier at the IPC is an osteopath ,” he said.” Without topic certain athletes have been competing in the wrong categories and I will name them in my evidence. It’s not just Britain but Britain have been at the forefront.
” The people at the top of UKA and different governing bodies have exposed the loopholes in classification. They have taken it as a green light to do whatever there is a desire to and expect UK Sport to turn a blind eye because they assure the great number of medals coming in.
” It’s terrible because we’re talking about disability athletic and the people who win the medals are supposed to be the best athletes , not the people who have misrepresented themselves to be more incapacitated than they actually are .”
Breen represents a group of parents across different sports and disciplines. He said UKA is preoccupied with medals at the expense of athlete welfare.
” Fundamentally disability sport is about getting more people to participate in athletic and be inspired by it but UK Sport don’t understand that ,” he said.” It’s disgraceful and it’s insidious. Back in 2000 Paralympic sport was watched by one man and his dog. They didn’t have a TV contract or any sponsors. What’s changed? Money and medals and everybody connected with it gets an OBE or an MBE. It’s completely demeaned what you have to do to obtain one of these honours .”
Breen will also suggest that the classification process is professionalised in the future so the same classifiers work across the globe.” At the moment different people are choosing what is a moderate and what is a high level of spasticity for cerebral palsy athletes in Toronto than in London. That can’t be right .”
UKA published a category review in March. Ed Warner, chairperson at the time, said:” I am is of the view that the current domestic classification system is deemed to be robust and indeed is cited as one that is an exemplar. But we do not shy away from the indicated areas for improvement .” When UKA were approached for commentary they referred the Guardian to the Ed Warner report.
An IPC spokesman said:” In May 2016 Mr Breen compiled some complaints to the IPC regarding the classification of certain British Para athletes. The IPC investigated each athlete case, which included analyse detailed medical diagnostic datum. Contrary to Mr Breen’s affirmations, the IPC concluded that the athletes were appropriately classified and did not represent a concern to the IPC .”
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