The president of the International Paralympic Committee is not completely shutting the door on a return to the pool for American Paralympic swimmer Victoria Arlen.
Sir Phillip Craven said Wednesday that while medical research supports the IPC's decision to rule Arlen ineligible for competition on the eve of the Paralympic World Swimming Championships in Montreal because her condition isn't considered permanent, the ruling could be reconsidered.
"I think if that was the situation that did happen and there was absolute proof that this is a permanent impairment, then that it something that could be reviewed," he said.
Arlen, 18, was paralyzed from the waist down due to illness seven years ago. She resumed competitive swimming at the age of 16. At last year's Paralympics in London she set a world record and won a gold medal in the 100-metre freestyle and silver medals in three other races.
Craven, in Toronto to discuss the upcoming 2015 Toronto Parapan Games, said the timing of Arlen's disqualification was unfortunate — she was already in Montreal when the decision was made — but the ruling was supported by the findings of five independent experts.
"It very much boils down to the fact on whether or not the impairment is permanent or not," he said. "The athlete was informed in London that far more in-depth medical evidence would have to be submitted prior to the swimming championships in Montreal.
"We were in contact with U.S. Paralympics on several occasions urging them to pass this information to us and unfortunately this information did not arrive until the 25th of July. When the evidence came in it was submitted to five independent experts. None of them knew who the athlete was and they all came back with the same decision that this athlete was not eligible for competition in Paralympic swimming."
Arlen, who lives in Exeter, N.H., said on her Facebook page that she was "heartbroken" and "completely shocked" by the disqualification.
"To have trained so hard this past year and come so far only to be humiliated and targeted by the IPC for reasons unknown baffles me," she wrote last weekend after the decision was made. "Being penalized for maybe having a glimmer of hope of one day being able to walk again is beyond sad. What message are we giving the world when we don't encourage hope for disabled individuals?"
"As it stands today unfortunately I am disabled and that won't change in the near future," she added.
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan and the state's two U.S. senators in have criticized the decision.
"Thank you everyone for all of the incredible love and support!" Arlen posted Monday. "It truly means so much! I am going away for a few days to have some "me" time and surround myself with family and friends."
Stance on Russia's anti-gay law
Meanwhile, Craven said he has been in contact with Russian authorities after a controversial anti-gay law was passed in the host country of the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Paralympics
"Most certainly this law that's been passed if it is in fact something that does go against each individual right to be equal and to be free ... then that contravenes our handbook which is our constitution which is that no one should be discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation," Craven said. "On that front, absolutely that is something that I would definitely not support.
"We have very good relations with the Russian government, and I am asking for some answers to some questions at this moment, and they will be forthcoming I am absolutely convinced of that."
Craven has spent the past couple days in Toronto meeting with local Pan Am Games organizers. He said he's hoping the 2015 Parapan Games will be covered in the same way as high-profile able-bodied sports events.
"It takes switching that brain on of the reporter or editor, who may have disability on their mind, and switching it to sport," he said.
Craven said the success of coaches like Peter Eriksson, the head coach of Athletics Canada who had great success in the past with star wheelchair racer Chantal Peticlerc, helps blur the line between para and able-bodied sports.
"What that points to is that we're sport," he said. "If you can make the transfer from Paralympic to Olympic then we're all about sport.
"We celebrated 20 years of the International Paralympic Committee in 2009 and I said at the end of my speech that the biggest achievement of the past eight or nine years has been the transformation of the Paralympic movement from a disability with a big 'D' sports movement to an international sports movement."
The former wheelchair basketball player also said that Canada "has maybe slipped a little from the position it had previously in the medal rankings," but added "I think the wheels are going to be put in motion with Toronto 2015 as maybe the prime mover, then Rio 2016 moving forward, to get a resurge of the practice of para sport in Canada."