Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport will offer new training and accreditation for National Eligibility Officers (NEOs) from 2020 in its latest move to improve standards in the area.
NEOs play a crucial role in the first step any athlete must take when they want to compete at Virtus competitions and Paralympic Games – eligibility.
They assess if potential competitors have an eligible impairment by reviewing medical and other documentation, before putting their assessment forward to experts at Virtus. Athletes who receive an eligibility number can then go on to be classified by International Federations.
Now, thanks to a grant from the Agitos Foundation, more training will be available for NEOs as well as an official accreditation.
The project builds on previous activities organised by Virtus in collaboration with the Agitos Foundation and Canterbury Christchurch University on eligibility and classification. These included workshops in Asia, Africa and the Americas in 2018 and 2019. Virtus has also been at the forefront of classification research, carrying out studies into adaptive behaviour and evaluating intelligence in sports.
The latest activities aim to formalise the current NEO workshop materials into an online training and accreditation course, deliver two more sessions in Africa and Asia and develop a series of resources which help with education and awareness around eligibility.
Professor Jan Burns, Head of Eligibility at Virtus, said: “Although an increasing number of nations are seeking to include athletes with an intellectual impairment within their activities, knowledge and understanding of the impairment, eligibility process and strategies for inclusion remain poor. Consequently we see lower participation rates than in other areas of Para sport. At London 2012 just 120 athletes competed, whilst at Rio 2016 this grew to just 130.”
Burns, who is also the Faculty Director of Research at Canterbury Christchurch University in Great Britain, continued: “Enhancing the athlete primary eligibility process is a strategic priority for Virtus as we push for a ‘gold standard approach’. This means constant refinement backed by research, use of technology and improved methodology/processes. However the system is only as good as the practitioners who work within it and so this project is critical in achieving our ambition.”
The work also goes hand-in-hand with other activities that Virtus is involved with. The organisation is currently part of a European Union-funded Erasmus programme which aims to tackle inequalities in access to sport for young people with intellectual impairments.
Intellectual Disability and Equal Opportunities for Active and Long-Term Participation in Sport (IDEAL) involves researchers, sports organisations and universities from six countries as well as the International Paralympic Committee.
The grant for developing NEO accreditation comes from the Agitos Foundation’s annual Grant Support Programme.