Wheelchair basketball facing exclusion from Tokyo Paralympics over classification dispute
Issue centres on how players are graded and which ones should be eligible to compete
Wheelchair basketball was removed from the 2024 Paralympic program on Friday, and could be cut from the upcoming Tokyo Games as well.
The International Paralympic Committee and the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation are in a dispute about how players are graded and which ones should be eligible to compete.
The sport is open to a wide range of disabled athletes with rules requiring teams to include people with impairments of different severity.
The IPC wants to reassess some wheelchair basketball players hoping to compete at the Tokyo Paralympics and block any it considers ineligible. The 2024 Paralympic Games will be in Paris, and the ruling could still be reversed.
"We appreciate that wheelchair basketball is one of the most popular sports at the Paralympic Games, but this does not mean that the IWBF is above the rules," IPC president Andrew Parsons said in a statement. "Athlete classification is integral to all Paralympic sport and the failure of any sport to comply with the IPC Athlete Classification Code is of critical concern to us because it could threaten the integrity of competition."
The IWBF said it wants to reach a deal with the IPC before the Tokyo Paralympics and played down the differences between the two organizations.
"It is important to stress the eligibility of our athletes is not in doubt, merely we use different languages in our classification," said Regina Costa, who chairs the IWBF's classification commission.
The IPC said that IWBF rules allow some athletes who wouldn't be eligible for other Paralympic sports. IPC spokesman Craig Spence told The Associated Press that 50 to 75 athletes worldwide with certain types of impairment might have to be re-assessed.
The United States is the defending champion in both the men's and women's wheelchair basketball events.
Canadian Paralympic Committee urges prompt resolution
Canada's men's and women's teams have both qualified for the 2020 Games. Later Friday, the Canadian Paralympic committe released a statement in response to the possible exclusion of the sport.
"We hope that both the IPC and the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation can come to a prompt resolution to ensure that wheelchair basketball remains within the Paralympic program for Tokyo," says Canadian Paralympic Committee CEO Karen O'Neill.
"Our teams have qualified and are in the final stages of preparation. We are committed to working with Wheelchair Basketball Canada to ensure that our athletes and coaches have an optimal, distraction free environment for performing at their best at Tokyo. We urge the IWBF to take immediate actions to ensure they comply and implement an action plan to improve athlete classification that aligns with the IPC classification code."
Tony Walby, chair of the Canadian Paralympic Athletes' Council is concerned by the timing so close to the start of competition.
"We are disappointed that such a situation has arisen close to 200 days before the start of the Games. This can be a big distraction for athletes preparing for the biggest event of their career. We hope that a resolution can be achieved quickly, "he said.
The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics are set to begin on Aug 25.
With files from CBC Sports