History will soon be made in London, as athletes with an intellectual impairment are set to make their return to the Paralympic Games.
After a 12 year absence, it has been revealed that 120 athletes with an intellectual impairment have been selected by their National Paralympic Committees.
The impairment group is one of 10 recognised by the Paralympic Movement, but was removed from the Games programme in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 after it emerged that a number of athletes had competed within the class at the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games despite not having an intellectual impairment.
A system was needed that reliably determined an athletes’ eligibility to compete. After earlier efforts failed to find a satisfactory solution, a joint initiative between Inas (the International Federation for sport for para-athletes with an intellectual disability) and the IPC (International Paralympic Committee), backed by a number of universities and sports scientists around the world, was established.
After extensive scientific research and testing, and in close consultation and co-operation with the respective sport governing bodies, the IPC voted in 2009 to re-instate events in the London programme and the race has been on since to ensure that not only were eligibility systems ready in time for 2012, but that athletes worldwide were successfully re-integrated into Paralympic Sport to achieve qualification. Athletes will compete in Athletics, Swimming and Table Tennis.
Dr Bob Price, Inas President, said “I was frequently told that athletes with an intellectual impairment would never compete in another Paralympic Games. However, working together, Inas and the IPC backed by the dedication of the scientific community, together with the determination of athletes around the World means that participation in the London Games is not only about to be achieved, but will inspire nations across the World to do more to develop sport for people with an intellectual impairment and to begin looking ahead to Rio in 2016”.
Dr Price added “Though 120 athletes is relatively small, it is still comparable to the number of athletes who took part in these three sports in Sydney in 2000. This is a huge achievement for both Inas and the IPC”.
Michael Murray, 21, is one of the athletes selected. Murray was selected for the Games after qualifying in the 1500 meter run at the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Trials recently held in Indianapolis. He has the additional honour of being the only track and field athlete with an intellectual impairment selected by the US team. “I’m really excited, but trying to stay calm about going to London. I’ve been watching the Olympics while training over the past month in California. I think it’s not how you start, but how you finish, and everyone in our family knows limits are only a state of mind”.
Professor Jan Burns, Inas Head of Eligibility, added “To be eligible for selection, each athlete has undergone a strict ‘primary eligibility’ check (a review of IQ and other medical data to determine a diagnosis of intellectual impairment according to international standards) together with a sports-specific classification assessment (an evaluation to ensure that the disability has a significant limitation on their performance in sport)”.
The project team which developed this process recently won a 2012 Podium award for their contribution to scientific research.
The Games begin on 30th August. Athletes will compete in Class T/F20 in Athletics, S14 in Swimming and Class 11 in Table Tennis.