Over 30 Japanese athletes who have qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics, or are still vying for their spots, have yet to receive their international classifications due to the pandemic and potentially could be ruled out of competing this summer, Kyodo News learned Sunday.
Para-sports bodies said the athletes, including those who have won gold medals at previous Paralympics, have not found out which categories they will compete in, and it is likely that many will not be classified prior to the games' start.
Athletes' disabilities are classified for the Paralympics to ensure fair competition. In athletics, this results in the men's 100 meters being split into 16 different categories.
The classification reviews, by judges certified by the International Paralympic Committee or international federations, are, in principle, carried out at international tournaments.
However, many meets have been canceled due to the pandemic, while athletes with severe disabilities have faced the additional challenge of attending as travel could put them at a higher risk of infection.
Tomoya Ito, who won the men's 400 and 800 meters in the T52 category in athletics at the 2008 Beijing Games, and 2019 Asian table tennis men's champion Takashi Asano are among the Japanese athletes who have qualified for this year's Paralympics but whose classifications have yet to be reviewed.
Overseas, voices have also been raised about getting the IPC to review its classification process, but IPC President Andrew Parsons told Kyodo News, "It's not something we are discussing at the moment."
"Having the same event (with) athletes that went through the review and athletes who didn't go through the review, it's something of a situation that we don't want."
"At the moment, our focus is to classify all the athletes that will be competing in Tokyo...rather than changing our regulations on all classifications."
Classifications are often determined on a single performance for athletes with stable disabilities, such as amputee athletes, but classifications for those with progressive disabilities sometimes require periodic review.
Strict classification is needed to prevent illegal entries. In the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Spain won the gold medal in men's basketball for players with intellectual disabilities by using players without disabilities.
At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, a sighted South Korean judoka competed against visually impaired athletes.
"We cannot have a situation where athletes can't compete because of (no) classification," said Yumiko Taniguchi, the executive director at the Japan Swimming Federation for Persons with an Intellectual Disability.