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Simplifying classification



All Para athletes competing in Paralympic sports must have an impairment that leads to a competitive disadvantage in sport. 

Classification of Para athletes provides a structure for competition, with the idea being it creates a fair and even playing field to compete against others of similar function. 

World Para Swimming and other internation sporting organisations has implemented system - known as classification - to ensure the success of an athlete is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus.

Classification types can be broken down to physical (S1-S10), vision (S11-S13) and intellectual (S14).

The sport class names in Para swimming consist of a prefix S, SB or SM and a number. The prefixes stand for the event and the number indicates the sport class the athlete competes in during the respective event.

The prefixes stand for - S: Freestyle, Butterfly and Backstroke events; SB: Breaststroke; SM: Individual Medley.

For more information on the classification process go to the classification page on Swimming New Zealand's website.

Below is some information about each of the types mentioned.



Physical impairment

There are eight different types of physical impairments which are classifiable. This means when classification is being sort a swimmer's primary impairment must be diagnosed under one of the below descriptions:

  • Impaired muscle power
  • Impaired passive range of movement
  • Loss of limb or limb deficiency
  • Leg-length difference
  • Short stature (under 137cm for female, under 145cm for male)
  • Hypertonia
  • Ataxia
  • Athetosis


Vision impairment

Athletes must have a condition that leads to one or more of the following impairment:   

  • Impairment of the eye structure/receptors;
  • Impairment of the optic nerve/optic pathways;
  • Impairment of the visual cortex.

The athlete’s impairment must be in both eyes and measured with the best eye with best corrected vision and must meet the following minimal eligibility criteria:

  •          Visual acuity is less than or equal to LogMAR 1.00 (6/60 vision); and/or
  •          Visual field that is less than a diameter of 40 degrees (20 degree radius).

Intellectual impairment

Swimmers must have a restriction on intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour. This impairment needs to be present before the age of 18.

Such evidence could include (but not limited to) receives ORS (ongoing resourcing scheme) at school, a formal assessment of cognitive and adaptive behaviour, is receiving any service relating to accommodation, employment, protection and/or financial support because of the intellectual impairment.

Examples of intellectual impairments (but not limited to) are: Down syndrome, Klinefelter's syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Williams’s syndrome, genetic ciliopathy, meningitis, traumatic head injury.

For 80% of intellectual impairments (II), the cause is unknown.

*It must be noted that even swimmers who have a diagnosis that meets the eligibility criteria for classification may still not be sufficently impaired to gain a classification.