IPC mourns passing of classification pioneer Dr Cairbre McCann

McCann was committed to developing a system for fair and meaningful competition in Para sports 11 Mar 2021
Black and white photo of a man
Dr. Cairbre McCann had a career-long passion for proper classification as a central piece of fair and meaningful competition
ⒸPaul DePace

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has hailed the work done by Dr Cairbre McCann who passed away following a long illness at the age of 92, earlier this year. He was the pioneer behind the first classification system.

McCann became heavily involved in Para sports in 1961 following the polio outbreak and consequent paralytic conditions. That year he became the Medical Director at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Centre for Children where he worked with his wife Eithne. In 1969, McCann chaired the Department of Rehabilitation at Rhode Island Hospital, helping found a state wheelchair sports organisation and with the support of his family, set up training sessions in a field behind their home.

McCann’s involvement in disability and sports extended internationally. He was associated with the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS), serving as chairman of the Sport Science and Medicine Committee from 1981-1987.

Very early in his career, McCann strongly believed that fair competitions among Para athletes should be based upon the anatomy of their neurologic lesion, and so he created a novel international classification system. He wrote The Physician’s Guide to Classification and even served as the team physician for US wheelchair athletes. He explained the benefits of sports for people with a disability, and his work was cited in the US Rehabilitation Act of 1972 that has become a lasting legacy in the USA for veterans and people with disabilities.