The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has expressed its surprise and disappointment at a German court’s decision to award an interim injunction that allows US Paralympian and SB-LL1 sport class snowboarder Brenna Huckaby to compete at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in medal events for a different sport class.
In January 2019, the IPC Governing Board provisionally included two women’s SB-LL1 class Para Snowboard events (banked slalom and snowboard cross) into the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games sport programme. The Governing Board wanted to give the sport an opportunity to prove that the events ultimately could meet the minimum viability standards for the Paralympic Winter Games.
To meet viability, a minimum of six athletes from no fewer than three countries needed to compete in SB-LL1 events at the 2019 World Championships. However, only two athletes representing two countries took part in those World Championships. (Even at the end of the entire 2019 season, the sport only had a total of five athletes from four nations competing in the events.)
With such limited participation, the IPC Governing Board in June 2019 ruled the two events non-viable for a Paralympic Winter Games, revoked their provisional status and removed them from the Beijing 2022 medal events programme.
In September 2021, more than two years after the IPC Governing Board’s decision and just six months before the start of Beijing 2022, Huckaby applied to the IPC to participate at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. The athlete requested to compete in either the men’s SB-LL1 category or the women’s SB-LL2 category, sport classes which have events in Beijing.
Under the World Para Snowboard rules, women are not eligible to compete in men’s events, and also cannot participate in sport classes at the Paralympic Winter Games for which they are not eligible. As a result, the athlete’s request was denied by both the IPC and World Para Snowboard.
Consequently, Huckaby pursued an interim injunction that would overrule the IPC and World Para Snowboard’s decision. This request was initially rejected by a German court in December 2021 but was overturned on appeal today (20 January 2022).
Andrew Parsons, IPC President, said: “We are extremely surprised and disappointed at the court’s decision which shows a complete disregard for the rules and regulations of World Para Snowboard and the Beijing 2022 qualification criteria, and a lack of understanding of the classification system in Paralympic sport.
“We eagerly await the court’s written decision because in our view the rules for World Para Snowboard could not be clearer: athletes cannot participate in sport classes at the Paralympic Winter Games for which they are not eligible. Brenna is eligible for the SB-LL1 class and not the SB-LL2 class. Despite this, the court for whatever reason has dismissed the rulebook and ignored the Beijing 2022 Qualification Criteria.
“It goes without saying that the IPC is understanding of Brenna’s cause. She is a world class athlete and a Paralympic champion who is desperate to compete and represent her country at the very highest level. But she is not alone in wanting to do this. Across the world, there are thousands of Para athletes who want to compete in the Paralympic Games. However, due to the nature of the event - the pinnacle of Para sport - not every sport class and sport event can be included. As a result, there are always athletes who miss out and are disappointed.”