The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has warned the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) that the removal of wheelchair basketball from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games is one of the options it could pursue unless the federation implements an IPC approved action plan to improve athlete classification by 29 May 2020.
At the same time, due to the IWBF’s continued failure to comply with the IPC Athlete Classification Code, wheelchair basketball has been removed with immediate effect from the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games sport programme. Such exclusion may, however, be lifted if the IWBF takes measures to fully comply with the IPC Athlete Classification Code by 31 August 2021.
The unanimous decision taken by the IPC Governing Board at its meeting in Bonn, Germany (23-25 January) follows protracted discussions with the IWBF, which, as an International Federation, currently defines eligible impairments differently to the mandatory list of Eligible Impairments agreed on by the IPC General Assembly and reflected in the IPC Athlete Classification Code. The Eligible Impairments in the Paralympic Movement reflect the activities of the IOSDs that founded the IPC, and any changes must be approved by the IPC General Assembly.
The IPC has taken the decision now after the IWBF failed on numerous occasions to take actions to improve its Athlete Classification Code compliance.
Andrew Parsons, IPC President, said: “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.
“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.
“Sadly, this is not a new issue and the IWBF has been on notice of this matter for several years and has been provided ample time and opportunity to address it. Throughout this period, we have been very clear to the IWBF that changes must be made in advance of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“With less than seven months to go until the Games our disappointment with the IWBF’s reluctance to comply with the IPC Athlete Classification Code has reached breaking point, especially when the Eligible Impairments allowed to participate in Paralympic sport have been approved by the IPC General Assembly.
“Substantial work is required to align the IWBF classification rules with the IPC Athlete Classification Code and to roll-out the changes on an operational level. We hope this decision will kickstart the IWBF into action because if not, the worst case scenario, is that the sport and its athletes could miss out on inclusion at the Paralympic Games.
“The ball is now very much in wheelchair basketball’s court, as it has been for some time now. The IWBF know exactly what measures they need to take between now and this May. Long-term a timeline is also in place with what actions must be taken for the sport to be reinstated into the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.”
Chelsey Gotell, Chairperson of the IPC Athletes’ Council, said: “The failure of the IWBF to comply with the IPC Athlete Classification Code means they are also failing every single athlete that plays wheelchair basketball.
“From an athlete viewpoint, I am bitterly disappointed at the IWBF’s continued reluctance to make changes to comply with the IPC Athlete Classification Code which is fundamental for every single Paralympic sport.
“Any athlete in sport knows that if you do not play by the rules you will be penalised. The same approach must also be taken against the IWBF who currently are playing by their own rulebook, a rulebook that has the potential to allow athletes with non-eligible impairments to participate at the Paralympic Games.
“The IWBF is the only international federation on the Paralympic Games programme that does not have an athlete representation model. This makes things very difficult for athletes in the sport to give their views or achieve a greater understanding of serious issues that could impact them. This is why athletes came to the IPC Athletes’ Council to seek greater clarity on this issue since they were not involved in any discussions with the IWBF.
“We cannot escape the fact that the IPC Governing Board’s decision has a potential impact on an athlete population who want to compete at the Paralympic Games. But the IWBF has been aware of this issue for several years and changes are needed within the sport so that players and spectators alike can be confident that only players with eligible impairments in line with the IPC Athlete Classification Code are playing the sport.”
As part of an IPC approved action plan, the IPC Governing Board has granted the IWBF a temporary extension to comply with the IPC Athlete Classification Code. During this extension period, all wheelchair basketball players set to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games with sport classes 4.0 and 4.5 must have their eligibility reassessed by 29 May 2020. Such reassessments will determine whether or not players have an Eligible Impairment under the IPC Athlete Classification Code. Players found without an Eligible Impairment will not be allowed to compete at the Games.
If at any stage the IPC considers that the approved action plan is not being complied with, the IPC Governing Board may consider a range of measures. This could include an extension of the deadline or, if it sees fit, immediate exclusion from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The IPC Governing Board has removed wheelchair basketball with immediate effect from the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games. Such exclusion may, however, be lifted if the IWBF becomes fully compliant with the IPC Athlete Classification Code by no later than the end of August 2021.