Athletes with learning difficulties will be able to compete at the London 2012 Paralympics, after a ban was finally lifted by the world governing body.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) imposed the ban after the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, when nearly all the gold medal-winning Spanish basketball team were found not to have learning difficulties (or intellectual disabilities (ID), as they are categorised by the IPC).
The ban was lifted after the IPC and the International Federation for Sport for Athletes with an Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID) agreed on a strict new testing regime.
Athletes with ID will now fight for medals in four sports at London 2012: athletics, swimming, rowing and table-tennis.
Athletes who want to compete in IPC events – including the Paralympics – will have to submit information including an intelligence test and medical evidence to INAS-FID.
Eligible athletes will then undergo “on-site testing”, which will focus on “sports intelligence” and include tests relevant to that sport.
These on-site tests are not expected to be ready until mid-2010, but eligible athletes can compete until then at the discretion of individual sports federations.
ID swimmers have already competed in the IPC European championships in October in Iceland – their first big competition since Sydney. Seven British swimmers won a total of 12 medals.
One of them was Craig Rodgie, from Fife in Scotland, who won gold in the S14 100m backstroke.
He said “words can’t describe” how he and other ID athletes felt when they realised they would be able to compete at London 2012.
He said: “We have been waiting so long for the inclusion. Just getting the opportunity to be at one of the biggest events in the world, it’s just unbelievable.”
Although he is keen to focus on “one step at a time”, with his next objective next year’s world championships in Eindhoven, he said London 2012 was “where I want to be”.
Tim Reddish, chairman of ParalympicsGB, said: “We have lobbied hard for the re-inclusion of athletes with a learning disability, subject to a robust classification system, and are delighted that IPC and INAS-FID have got us to that point.
“The Paralympic Games represent the pinnacle of high performance sport, so any athletes with a learning disability will have to meet the same exacting performance and qualification standards as all other GB athletes – we will now work hard with the sports to ensure that these athletes are best prepared.”
24 November 2009