Para-rowing has five boat classes which link up the various impairments of the athlete. The most restricted is the para men’s and women’s single sculls. These are for athletes who can only use their arms and shoulders (ASM1x and ASW1x). Next is the mixed double sculls (TAMix2x). This is for athletes that can use their trunk and arms. A new boat class to the mixed double sculls is for athletes that have the use of their legs, trunk and arms (LTAMix2x). There is also one sweep boat class. The mixed coxed four is for athletes that can use their legs, trunk and arms (LTAMix4+).

A para-rower’s impairments decide what their classification will be.

The Classification Process:

1. A physician completes the FISA medical diagnostics form which is emailed to FISA: This form must prove that the athlete has an impairment that leads to a permanent and verifiable activity limitation. This means it cannot be an injury that might improve and pain is not an eligible impairment. The form can be found here: http://www.worldrowing.com/para-rowing/
2. FISA ensures the documentation is complete and the athlete has an eligible impairment.
3. A sport class is then able to be ‘nominally’ given.
4. Classification. This usually occurs at an event. The athlete undergoes an assessment that involves a classification panel that reviews the documentation and carries out an assessment. This includes looking at the athlete’s range of motion, strength and a number of functional tests. The technical classifier then does an assessment on the ergometer. The sport class is then given. Occasionally the athlete will also have to go on the water.

The sport classification for most athletes is permanent, but sometimes there is a change in their impairment level or the classification process can change. Thus an athlete can be reclassified. There are also cases with athletes getting a sports class status of ‘review’. This could include an athlete that is borderline or new to rowing, so it could be that the technique causes the impairment.

“Here (in Aiguebelette) there were two athletes that had been confirmed as TA (trunk and arms) and they both had a change in their medical impairment. They were reclassified as AS (arms and shoulders),” says Judy Morrison of the FISA Para Rowing Commission. “This is fairly unusual because most impairments are orthopaedic in nature and so there’s no change.”

FISA classified 30 athletes in Aiguebelette and of those 30, two did not meet the requirements. One of these was Aliaksandr Parkalau of Belarus. Parkalau has rowed for his country at the under-23 level before a degenerative eye disease caused him to lose sight in his right eye and he is also losing sight in his left eye. This means that in Belarus, Parkalau can no longer row with the national team. “I will continue rowing,” says Parkalau. “Rowing is my life.’ For now Parkalau will help his country’s para team and he will aim for reclassification in the future.

Athletes can disagree with their sport classification and protest. This can lead to reassessment. An athlete, however, cannot protest another athlete’s sport class.

Morrison says the classification system is open to review. “We are starting a research project to get the minimal disability criteria to be more sport-specific,” says Morrison. The aim of the research is to make the classification more relevant to the sport of rowing. This will put a weighting scale on to the muscles and joints that are more importance to rowing than others. Morrison sees that this research could lead to a classification review after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.