The World Para Athletics classification system serves two key purposes:
1. Determining eligibility: the system defines who is eligible to compete in World Para Athletics competitions;
2. Sport Class Allocation: system describes methods for dividing eligible athletes up into sport classes. The aim is that each class should consist of athletes who have impairments that cause approximately the same amount of activity limitation in the key athletic disciplines – running, wheelchair racing, jumps and throws.
1. Determining Eligibility
To be eligible for para-athletics, a person must have an eligible impairment type and the impairment must be judged to be severe enough to have an impact on the sport of athletics. Minimum Disability Criteria (MDC) are described in the World Para Athletics Classification Rules and Regulations.
There are 10 eligible impairment types: eight physical impairments as well as visual impairment and intellectual impairment:
Impaired muscle power
The muscles in the limbs or trunk are completely or partially paralysed as a consequence of conditions such as spinal cord injury, polio or spina bifida.
Impaired passive range of movement
Range of movement in one or more joints is permanently reduced due to trauma, illness or congenital deficiency (e.g. conditions such as arthrogryposis or joint contracture resulting from trauma).
A total or partial absence of bones or joints, from birth, as a consequence of trauma (e.g. traumatic amputation) or illness (e.g. amputation due to cancer).
Lack of muscle co-ordination due to problems with the parts of the central nervous system that control movement and balance, typical of conditions such as traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy.
Repetitive and more or less continual involuntary movements caused by fluctuating muscle tone arising from problems in the central nervous system, typical of conditions such as cerebral palsy.
Abnormal increase in muscle tension with reduced ability of muscles to stretch, and joint stiffness, slowness of movement and poor postural adaptation and balance, due to problems in the central nervous system, typical of conditions such as cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and stroke.
Standing height and limb length are reduced due to conditions such as achondroplasia and osteogenesis imperfecta.
Leg length difference
Minimum of 7cm leg length difference due to trauma, illness or congenital conditions.
Vision is impacted by either an impairment of the eye structure, optical nerve / pathways or the part of the brain controlling vision (visual cortex).
Limited intellectual functions and adaptive behaviour which must be diagnosed before the age of 18.
2. Sport Class Allocation
The aim of classification in Para athletics is to minimise the impact of eligible impairments on the outcome of competition. To do this, athletes are assessed and then placed into competition categories, called sport classes, according to how much their impairment affects sports performance.
In general athletes with impairments that have a similar impact on sport performance will compete in the same sport class. The system ensures that athletes do not succeed simply because they have an impairment that causes less of a disadvantage than their competitors, but because of their skill, determination, tactics, fitness and preparation.
Table 1 presents the overall structure of Para athletics classification. The numerical figure represents the level of impairment; the lower the number within each impairment type, the more severe the impairment:
Track and jumps (Prefix T for Track)
Discipline: Running and jumping (16 classes)
Sport classes (Impairment types):
T11-13 (Visual impairment)
T20 (Intellectual impairment)
T35-38 (Coordination impairments (hypertonia, ataxia and athetosis))
T40-41 (Short stature)
T42-44 (Lower limb affected by limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement)
T45-47 (Upper limb/s affected by limb deficiency, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement)
Discipline: Wheelchair racing (7 classes)
T32-34 (Coordination impairments (hypertonia, ataxia and athetosis))
T51-54 (Limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement)
Throws (prefix F for Field)
Discipline: Standing throws (15 classes)
Sport classes (Impairment types):
F11-13 (Visual impairment)
F20 (Intellectual impairment)
F35-38 (Coordination impairments (hypertonia, ataxia and athetosis))
F40-41 (Short stature)
F42-44 (Lower limb affected by limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement)
F45-46 (Upper limb/s affected by limb deficiency, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement)
Discipline: Seated throws (11 classes)
Sport classes (Impairment types):
F31-34 (Coordination impairments (hypertonia, ataxia and athetosis))
F51-57 (Limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement)
Description of the classes
Sport Classes T11-13 and F11-13
Athletes in these classes have a visual impairment which is severe enough to impact on sport. As indicated in table 1 they compete in one of three sport classes in track and jumps (T11-13) and throws (F11-13).
T11/F11 - These athletes have a very low visual acuity and/or no light perception.
T12/F12 - Athletes with a T12/F12 sport class have a higher visual acuity than athletes competing in the T11/F11 sport class and/or a visual field of less than five degrees radius.
T13/F13 - Athletes with a T13/F13 sport class have the least severe visual impairment eligible for IPC Athletics. They have the highest visual acuity and/or a visual field of less than 20 degrees radius.
Sport classes T20/F20
Athletes in this class have an intellectual impairment that impacts on the activities of running (400m - marathon), jumping (long jump and triple jump) or throwing events (shot put). As indicated in table 1, there is one sport class for running and jumping events (T20) and one for field events (F20) and athletes must meet the sport-specific MDC for each of their respective events (running, jumping or throwing).
Sport classes T32-4 (wheelchair track), T35-38 (running track), F31-34 (seated throws) and F35-38 (standing throws)
Athletes in these classes are affected by hypertonia, ataxia and athetosis all of which typically affect co-ordination of movement. As indicated in table 1 they compete in the following classes:
Wheelchair track: T32-34
These classes are for wheelchair racing,
T32 - Athletes have moderate to severe co-ordination impairment affecting all four limbs and trunk, but usually with slightly more function on one side of the body or in the legs. Function is affected so that throwing and wheelchair propulsion is difficult. Trunk control is poor.
T33 - Athletes have moderate to severe co-ordination impairment of three to four limbs, but typically have almost full functional control in the least impaired arm. Forward propulsion of the wheelchair is impacted by significant asymmetry in arm action and/or very poor grasp and release in one hand and limited trunk movement.
T34 - Athletes are generally affected in all four limbs but more in the lower limbs than the upper limbs. The arms and trunk demonstrate fair to good functional strength and near to able-bodied grasp, release and relatively symmetrical wheelchair propulsion.
Running Track and Jumps: T35-38
Athletes in the sport classes T35-38 have sufficient function to run.
T35 - Athletes are typically affected in all four limbs but more so in the legs than the arms. Running gait is moderately to severely impacted, with stride length typically shortened.
T36 - These athletes demonstrate moderate athetosis, ataxia and sometimes hypertonia or a mixture of these which affects all four limbs. The arms are usually similarly or more affected than the legs. Involuntary movements are clearly evident throughout the trunk and/or in the limbs in all sport activities, either when the athlete is attempting to stand still (athetosis) or when attempting a specific movement (tremor).
T37 - Athletes have moderate hypertonia, ataxia or athetosis in one half of the body. The other side of the body may be minimally affected but always demonstrates good functional ability in running. Arm action is asymmetrical. Some trunk asymmetry is usually evident.
T38 - Athletes have clear evidence of hypertonia, ataxia and/or athetosis on physical assessment that will affect running. Co-ordination impairment is mild to moderate and can be in one to four limbs. Co-ordination and balance are typically mildly affected, and overall these athletes are able to run and jump freely.
Seated throws: F31-34
F31 - Athletes have severe hypertonia or athetosis, with very poor functional range, and/or control of movement in all four limbs and the trunk. Hand function is very poor with a limited static grip, severely reduced throwing motion and poor follow through and release.
F32 - Athletes have moderate to severe hypertonia, ataxia and/or athetosis affecting all four limbs and trunk, usually with slightly more function on one side of the body or in the legs. A cylindrical and/or spherical grasp is possible, but grasp and release in combination with throws are poorly co-ordinated. Dynamic trunk control is poor.
F33 - Athletes have moderate to severe hypertonia, ataxia or athetosis affecting three to four limbs, typically have almost full functional control in the least impaired arm. Athletes are able to throw an implement forcefully, albeit with limited follow-through. While athletes are able to grasp the implement, release of the implement is affected by poor finger dexterity. Trunk movements are limited by extensor tone, so that throwing motions are mainly from the arm.
F34 - Athletes generally have moderate to severe hypertonia in both legs with significant difficulty in standing balance and walking. The arms and trunk demonstrate fair to good functional strength and near to full grasp, release and follow through for throws. Poor fine co-ordination in the hands is common. Hypertonia in the trunk and in the legs may result in mild limitations in throws.
Standing Throws: F35-38
Athletes in the sport classes F35-38 have sufficient function in throwing ability from a standing position without support or aids.
F35 - Athletes are typically more affected in the legs than the arms, but may also have significant co-ordination impairment of the non-throwing arm. Moderate hypertonia in the legs significantly limits the ability to walk and run. The athlete has fair to good functional strength and near to able-bodied grasp, release and follow through in the throwing arm.
F36 - Athletes demonstrate moderate athetosis, ataxia and sometimes hypertonia or a mixture of these, which affects all four limbs. The arms are usually similarly or more affected than the legs. Involuntary movements are clearly evident throughout the trunk and/or in the limbs in sport activities, either when the athlete is attempting to stand still (athetosis) or when attempting a specific movement (tremor).
F37 - Athletes have moderate hypertonia, ataxia or athetosis in one half of the body. The other side of the body may be minimally affected and demonstrates good functional ability in throws. Transfer of weight onto the affected leg is poor. The affected arm may demonstrate no to some functional ability. Some trunk asymmetry is usually evident.
F38 - Athletes have clear evidence of hypertonia, ataxia and/or athetosis on physical assessment that meets the MDC. Impairment is mild to moderate and can be in one to four limbs. Co-ordination and balance in throws may be mildly affected, but overall these athletes are able to run and throw freely using able-bodied techniques.
Sport classes T40-41 and F40-41.
Athletes with short stature compete in sport class T40/F40 and T41/F41. There are two classes depending on the body height of the athlete and the proportionality of the upper limbs. Athletes in classes T40 or F40 have a shorter stature than T41 and F41.
Sport classes T51–54 (wheelchair track), T42–47 (running track), F51-58 (seated throws) and F42-46 (standing throws)
Athletes in these classes are affected by one or more of the musculoskeletal impairments of limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement.
Track running, jumps and standing throws: T42/F42 – T44/F44
Athletes have impairments of the lower limbs. All athletes in these classes compete in standing without support.
The criteria for running, jumps and throws are the same.
T42/F42 – Athletes have one or more impairment types affecting hip and/or knee function in one or both limbs and with activity limitations in throws, jumps and running comparable to that of an athlete with at least a single through or above knee amputation. Athletes with impairment(s) roughly comparable to bilateral above knee amputations are also placed in this class
T43/F43 - Athletes have bilateral lower limb impairments where both limbs meet the MDC, and where functional loss is in the feet, ankles and/or lower legs. The activity limitation in athletics is roughly comparable to that found in an athlete with bilateral below-knee amputations.
T44/F44 – This class is for any athlete with a unilateral or a combination of lower limb impairment/s where the impairment in only one limb meets the MDC. Functional loss is seen in one foot, ankle and/or lower leg. The activity limitation in athletics is roughly comparable to that found in an athlete with one through ankle / below knee amputation.
Sport classes: T45/F45, T46/F46, T47
The primary impairments are in the upper limbs. All athletes in these classes compete standing without support. The criteria for running and jumps are slightly different to the criteria for throws.
Running and Jumps: T45 – T47
T45 – Athletes have impairments of both arms affecting the shoulder and/or elbow joints which are comparable to the activity limitations in running and jumping as experienced by an athlete with bilateral above elbow amputations.
T46 – Athletes have a unilateral upper limb impairment that affects the shoulder and/or elbow joint of one arm and which is comparable to the activity limitations in running and jumps roughly comparable to that found in an athlete with a unilateral above elbow amputation. Athletes who have impairments of both arms, affecting elbow and wrist and roughly comparable to the activity limitations experienced by an athlete with bilateral through wrist / below elbow amputations of both arms, or an athlete with one above elbow amputation and one below elbow amputation, will also be placed in this class.
T47 - Athletes with a unilateral upper limb impairment resulting in some loss of function at the shoulder, elbow and wrist and which impacts sprints primarily. The impact of the impairment is comparable to the activity limitations experienced by an athlete with a unilateral through wrist/ below elbow amputation.
Standing Throws: F45 – F46
F45 – Athletes have impairments of both arms which must meet the MDC for limb deficiency, impaired passive range of movement or impaired muscle power to the extent that both arms demonstrate significant activity limitation for gripping and/ or throwing the field implements.
F46 – Athletes with a unilateral upper limb impairment roughly comparable to the activity limitations experienced by an athlete with a unilateral amputation of one arm through or above the wrist and one intact arm. Athletes with bilateral upper limb impairments where one arm meets the unilateral criteria, and the other affected arm does not does not meet the bilateral criteria above, also compete in this class.
Sport classes T51-T54 (wheelchair track) and F51-58 (seated throws)
Athletes in these athletics categories use racing wheelchairs and throwing frames in competition.
Wheelchair track: T51-54
T51 - Athletes usually have decreased shoulder muscle power and difficulty straightening the elbows for a pushing action required for wheelchair racing propulsion. There is no muscle power in the trunk. Wheelchair propulsion is achieved with a pulling action using the elbow flexor and wrist extensor muscles.
T52 – Athletes use their shoulder, elbow and wrist muscles for wheelchair propulsion. There is poor to full muscle power in the fingers with wasting of the intrinsic muscles of the hands. Muscle power in the trunk is typically absent.
T53 - Athletes typically have full function of the arms but no abdominal or lower spinal muscle activity (grade 0).
T54 – Athletes have full upper muscle power in the arms and some to full muscle power in the trunk. Athletes may have some function in the legs.
Seated Throws – F51-57
F51 - Athletes use the slightly decreased to full muscle power at the shoulders, elbow flexors, and wrist extensors for throwing an implement. The triceps muscles are non-functional and may be absent. Muscle power in the trunk is absent. Grip of the implements is difficult due to non-functional finger flexors. The non-throwing hand usually requires strapping to the support bar.
F52 - Athletes usually have good shoulder muscles and mildly weak to full elbow and wrist muscles which are required for throwing an implement. Finger flexor and extensor muscles are non-functional making grip of the implement difficult. The non-throwing hand usually requires strapping to the throwing frame.
F53 - Athletes have full muscle power at their shoulder, elbow and wrist in the throwing arm. Muscle power in the finger flexor and extensor muscles is functional, but there is always some weakness and resulting wasting of the intrinsic muscles of the hand. The grip on the implement is close to able-bodied and force can be imparted to the implement when throwing. The non-throwing hand grips the pole on the throwing frame.. An athlete with partial to full trunk control but with a throwing arm that fits the F52 profile is appropriately placed in this class.
F54 - Athletes have full power and movements in their arms, but no power in their abdominal muscles and typically no sitting balance. An athlete with partial to full trunk control but with upper limbs that fit the F53 profile is appropriately placed in this class.
F55 - Athletes have full function of the arms and partial to full trunk muscle power. There is no movement in the lower limbs. Athletes with bilateral hip disarticulations are appropriately placed in this class.
F56 - Athletes have full arm and trunk muscle power. Pelvic stability is provided by some to full ability to press the knees together. Hip abductor and hip extensor muscles are typically absent. Equivalent activity limitations are seen in athletes with bilateral high above knee amputations. Athletes with some but non-functional muscle power in the lower limbs will also fit in this class.
F57 - Athletes who meet one or more of the MDC for impaired muscle power, limb deficiency, impaired passive range of movement and leg length difference, who do not fit any of the previously described profiles, fall into this class.
Medical Diagnostics Forms for athletes with visual and physical impairments
It is the responsibility of the athlete to submit a copy of the Medical Diagnostic Form and all relevant documentation to IPC Athletics. The athlete should bring a copy of this document each time he/she presents for classification. The medical diagnostics forms are available on the classification page, under rules and regulations.
World Para Athletics Classification System
In 2003 World Para Athletics initiated a research programme to consider how the sports classification system could be enhanced by the application of a more scientific and objectively based approach. Such enhancements would be consistent with the IPC Classification Code.
You will find below a document prepared by the principle researcher, Dr. Sean Tweedy. Any questions in relation to the document below should be directed to World Para Athletics via email firstname.lastname@example.org
IPC Classification Project for Physical Impairments Final report - Stage 1 updated 16 July 2010 (pdf)