A table tennis player with Down's syndrome

At the request of the 2013 General Assembly and the membership, Virtus has been introducing additional eligibility groups into its competition programme.

A research project was commissioned by the Governing Board. Early results were presented in 2015 and since that time, there has been further consultation and feedback with the membership.

A proposal to trial new eligibility groups was included in the Strategic Plan 2017-2020. This was unanimously approved by the General Assembly in early 2017.

Eligibility and classification

Eligibility and classification are crucial for athletes with intellectual impairments to compete in Virtus competitions and at the Paralympic Games.

For the Paralympic sports of swimming, athletics and table tennis, eligibility is the first stage any athlete with an intellectual impairment must go through to compete.

The relevant International Federation will then guide athletes through classification – this establishes whether the impairment has an impact on sports performance. More information about classification is available here.

For non-Paralympic sports, eligibility only is required. This means that an athlete has a recognised impairment. Research is ongoing to develop classification systems in a variety of non-Paralympic sports.

There are currently three eligibility groups within Virtus competition. II1 is for athletes with intellectual impairments (these athletes can compete at the Paralympic Games in some sports); II2 is for athletes with significant additional impairments and II3 is for athletes with autism (but do not meet II1 criteria).

II2 and II3 are trial groups introduced in 2017 that increase the inclusion of the wide range of disabilities represented in intellectual impairments.

World Intellectual Impairment Sport uses the World Health Organisation (WHO) definitions to decide the criteria for each eligibility group. Guidance is also taken from the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Eligibility is applied for through the World Intellectual Impairment Sport member in a country. All World Intellectual Impairment Sport members have a National Eligibility Officer (NEO) whose job it is to provide evidence of the athletes’ impairment.

This evidence includes:

  • An IQ assessment that is less than five years old
  • An assessment of adaptive behaviour either through an accepted standardised questionnaire (including summary score sheet) or clinical observation, with details of how this data has been gathered
  • Evidence of diagnosis before the age of 18, e.g. developmental history, previous IQ or assessment report, evidence of special schooling etc.
  • A formal signed declaration that in both the NEO’s and the assessing psychologist’s professional opinion the athlete meets the criteria
  • Details of the assessing psychologist’s professional accreditation

NEOs must able to be a qualified psychologist and all assessments must be carried out by appropriately qualified professionals, usually psychologists.

More information about athlete eligibility can be found here.

Eligibility groups

II1 – for athletes with an intellectual impairment

This is the original eligibility group for athletes with intellectual impairments and is included in the Paralympic Games. Athletes compete in swimming, athletics and table tennis in S14, T/F20 and class 11 respectively.

In non-Paralympic sports and competitions, such as alpine skiing, tennis, equestrian and basketball, athletes compete in II1.

There are three criteria that an athlete must meet in order to be considered for Virtus and Paralympic competition in II1:

  • An IQ of 75 or lower
  • Significant limitations in adaptive behaviour as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills
  • Their impairment must have been diagnosed before the age of 18 (i.e. in the developmental stage of their life)

Athletes in the II1 group have certain challenges to overcome during competition. These include pacing during a race, tactics, and fine adjustments such as take-off points in jumping events.

II2 – for athletes with significant impairment 

It is very common for people with intellectual impairments to also have physical and/or sensory impairments such as cerebral palsy or visual impairments.

Other impairments may include differences in anatomical and muscular structures and heart and breathing problems. Intellectual and physical/sensory impairments often impact together meaning that athletes have to adapt to and overcome both.

Some syndromes which cause intellectual impairments also have additional impairments attached. Down Syndrome is one of these and is the most common form of genetically identified intellectual impairment.

The II2 group is being developed to reflect the variety of impairments that can accompany an intellectual impairment.

In the first stages of the trial, II2 is being limited to athletes with Trisomy 21 Down syndrome. WHO defines Down syndrome as ’an intellectual impairment‘ caused by extra genetic material in chromosome 21.

Based upon this definition, the criteria for athletes with Down syndrome is:

  1. A formal diagnosis of Trisomy 21 Down syndrome, and;
  2. A statement that the athlete is clear of symptomatic Atlantoaxial Instability (AAI) – a common orthopaedic problem seen in people with Down syndrome. Approximately, 10-30% of individuals with Down Syndrome have AAI. It effects the cervical spine and strenuous exercise can result in a degeneration of function and pain.

Note: Athletes with Mosaic Down syndrome are currently eligible for II1 competition.

The criteria for this group will be revised and expanded as the project progresses and research data becomes available.

II3 – for athletes with high functioning autism – trial

The II3 group is another trial and was introduced at the same time as II2. Currently there is no global organisation that organises and grows high performance sport for people with autism.

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as it is now commonly known, is defined by WHO as a group of complex brain development disorders situated on a continuum of severity. These are characterised by difficulties in social interaction and communication and restricted and repetitive interests and activities.

Awareness of autism and ASD is growing across the world in both adults and children.

Around 60-70 per cent of children who are diagnosed with autism are also diagnosed with intellectual impairments. However, some people do not have intellectual impairments, and this condition was previously referred to as Asperger’s syndrome, but now is more commonly called high functioning autism.

Those athletes who have an identified intellectual impairment have the chance to compete in current Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport events. However, there is very little opportunity for those people with autism and no intellectual impairment to compete at the highest levels.

This new group has been developed to recognise that and provide life-changing opportunities.

Based upon this, the Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport eligibility criteria for II3 is:

  1. A full-scale score of IQ of above 75, and/or no diagnosis of intellectual impairment (evidence of functioning cognitively at average or above average levels)
  2. A formal diagnosis of autism, ASD or Asperger’s syndrome, carried out by a qualified practitioner using accepted diagnostic techniques.

These criteria are subject to change following the conclusion of the trial.

Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport will be monitoring and evaluating the new eligibility groups over time to refine and develop the criteria. It reserves the right to amend or remove the eligibility criteria at any time. The new criteria are specific to World Intellectual Impairment Sport competition only.