Author Archives: Caroline Heaney

2020 Insight: do your recruitment and retention strategies need to change to suit a modern sport and physical activity workforce?

By Ben Oakley (The Open University) and Steve Mitchell (Sporting People)

Reproduced with permission of Sport England (image without words)

Central government (2015) and Sport England (2016, 2017 and 2018) have both indicated their desire to see more focus and funding invested into developing the sport and physical activity workforce. But what does this mean for your organisation and the people you employ now and in the future? This is particularly important if you are a public organisation or a club that is interested in receiving taxpayers’ or National Lottery funding beyond 2020. In this article we illustrate four examples of workforce development in action and consider what further transformation might look like. But first: why is change needed?

Figure 1 A timeline of main strategy announcements from Government (2015) and Sport England (2016-2018) indicating a direction of travel for policy and funding.

Why change?
Approximately 900,000 people are paid, many part-time, in supporting, or coaching, others in sport or physical activities (Sport England, 2018). They represent, in effect, a significant social movement. Yet, research suggests their approach to working with marginalised groups, and engaging inactive communities is often sub-optimal (e.g. London Sport, 2017).

The training of this workforce is also inconsistently delivered, assessed and benchmarked against other professions and regulated sectors. The CEO of Sport England suggests that claims about inactive groups being ‘hard to reach’ is unjust; the current approach of organisations to engage many inactive or marginalised communities has been poorly informed and executed.

Therefore, if we all agree to:

a) increase the number of physically active people we need to better prepare our ‘people’ by developing them with the skills and confidence to work towards this.

b) And, in order to maintain the confidence of the general public, and for the public health, justice and education sectors to invest in our work, we need to change how our learning and development operates. We need to demonstrate that our sector has sufficient quality development experiences to ensure safe practice that is both accessible to all and effective.
Some might say ‘our sport and people are just fine as they are’. Yes, we can continue the status quo but if you value public confidence and funding in our sector then keep reading to see some ideas you should be considering.

Four examples of recent people initiatives
These examples, with online links for further context, have emerged from organisations creating innovative solutions to workforce gaps or needs. To date there has been little coordinated sector effort … but there could be. Do any of these stimulate ideas relevant to your own organisation?

1. A National Governing Body (NGB)
Great Britain and England Hockey has transformed its coach training model to become better at developing appropriately skilled coaches. They have introduced a far wider coach development pathway involving many more specific and online development opportunities and built in more flexible assessment methods to support people to completion. The NGB’s consultation suggested courses “need to have maximum ‘pitch time’ and more online home study opportunities to allow for coaches to learn in their own time.” This has reduced the length and cost of courses, including travel costs.

2. A Community Activator Apprenticeship
Coach Core’s vision is that communities can benefit by having young relatable role models who could progress, not just their own life chances, but improve the lives of others around them too. They create a meaningful education and employment programme for 16-24 year olds funded through the Apprenticeship levy on larger businesses that was introduced in 2017. They focus on young people that need the opportunity the most in deprived inner-city communities and pay a wage during their Apprenticeship. This suggests that coaching related Apprenticeships are a valuable modern training option and pathway into sustainable employment.

3. Quality online coach learning and development
The Open University identified a need for new CPD learning for those that support and develop coaches; very little opportunities currently exist and promotion to the role is currently based on experience, rather than education. Using our expertise in coaching and distance education we launched a free online ‘Coaching others to coach’ course that has attracted 1900 participants in seven months. Learning that is open to all, 24/7, means people can learn at a time that suits them with a quality assured digital badge upon completion. Other CPD opportunities are being explored and the OU have also launched a similar, free ‘Communication and working relationships in sport and fitness’ course.

4. Active partnership: health professionals and leisure centres
Sport for Confidence programmes place health occupational therapists and specialist coaches into leisure centres, to provide inclusive sporting opportunities to people who face barriers to taking part. For instance, those with learning disabilities, mental health issues, dementia, autism or disability. The model works by using mainstream environments and delivery adjustments alongside breaking down barriers to ensure sport and physical activity is more accessible and can deliver occupational outcomes for public health and social care.

Final thoughts
Momentum is building with the Chartered Institute for the sector (CIMSPA) and UK Coaching refreshing quality standards for the sector and developing products to support coach development. In the future you need to be actively investing in your workforce, more so than at present. Perhaps it is timely to start to think about creating a ‘people developer’ role to prepare for the challenges ahead. But, for us, this far more than a coach education lead or HR specialist. How will these people developers be prepared for their important new role? Who has the insight on recruiting this talent and ensuring it is ready for the challenge?
We await feedback on this post and if there is interest, we may continue to write more on this intriguing topic. We think it is a puzzle to be solved in several ways.

References
London Sport, (2017) Bigger and Better Workforce Review, August 2017. Available from: https://data.londonsport.org/dataset/vdkjm/bigger-and-better-workforce-review.

Sport England, (2017) Working in an Active Nation: a Professional Workforce Strategy for England. Available from: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/working-in-an-active-nation-10-1.pdf

The Authors
Ben Oakley and OU colleagues, have developed online CPD provision for those who develop coaches along with resources for other groups.

Steve Mitchell
sits on an Active Partnership board and holds various Directorships across skills and training.

Meet some of our inspiring honorary graduates

Over the last few years we have been privileged to have a number of honorary graduates from the world of sport join #TeamOUsport

We thought it would be nice to share their inspirational words with you in the videos below.

Tony Wright, Milton Keynes Degree Ceremony, 1st November 2019

Judy Murray, Glasgow Degree Ceremony, 27th September 2019

Paul Sinton-Hewitt, 21st September 2019

Dame Sarah Storey, Manchester Degree Ceremony, 5th October 2018

Dame Katherine Grainger, London Degree Ceremony, Friday 21st September 2018

 

Symposium: We are writing the future

Following the success of our past annual conferences the next event in 2020 will be a symposium style focus on developing the people who develop coaches. Supporting these people is an important component in any coaching system, and this symposium provides an opportunity to discuss, debate and share ideas, thoughts and opinions about their future role. The symposium should be of interest to policy makers, system-builders, researchers, programme managers, coach developers, tutors, mentors and coach educators. It is a chance to explore, converse and contribute towards the future.

The symposium will be organised around a series of semi-structured conversational style workshops led by a ‘workshop guide’ which explore key themes, these are:

  1. Supporting coaches in virtual spaces and through digital technologies
  2. Creating professional recognition and qualifications for those who support learning and development in coaching – how, when and by whom?
  3. Educators or developers (or both?) – exploring how coach learning is supported by others.
  4. ‘Inside’ or ‘outside’ the system – in what spaces do those who support learning and development exist and where should the support of coaches take place.

 

The symposium is supported by Sport England and will contribute to the consultation for the next Coaching Plan.

 

 

Date: Wednesday 25th March 2020

Venue: The Open University, Milton Keynes

Booking details:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/sports-symposium-tickets-83967819007

However you support and learning and development of coaches this is an opportunity to explore the landscape and contribute to making it a better landscape. Please join us as we venture into the wilderness of coach development and endeavour to discover what has yet to be discovered.

#TeamOUSport Kit Launch!

We are delighted to announce that in association with Kitlocker we now have a range of Open University Sport and Fitness branded Nike kit and accessories available for staff and students. This can be purchased through the website below.

#TeamOUsport Kitlocker Store

 

We have introduced this kit to help our staff and student feel part of #TeamOUsport and develop our team identity. Open University Sport and Fitness Lecturer Dr Nichola Kentzer, who came up with the idea to develop this kit said:

 

“It’s important for students to have a strong sense of belonging to their university. The OU is such an amazing place and we want our students to really feel part of the Sport and Fitness team. Face to face universities encourage this sense of identity by having team kit, so why can’t we have this for our students too? Just because our students are geographically spread it doesn’t mean they can’t wear their OU kit with pride, showing others that they are part of the OU Sport and Fitness team. I can’t wait to see students sharing pictures of themselves working, training, studying and competing in their kit!”

 

 

Are you part of #TeamOUsport?

 

We would love to see pictures of you wearing your #TeamOUsport kit in a variety of locations so please share them with us on Twitter (@OU_Sport) using the hashtag #TeamOUsport

Induction 2019: Student stories

As part of our student induction this year we have been sharing a collection of stories from some of our #TeamOUsport students on Twitter. You will find a summary of the Tweets on this page. I’m sure you will agree that these stories are very inspiring.

To view Simon’s story in full click here

To view Michaels’s story in full click here

To view Amanda’s story in full click here

To view Helen’s story in full click here

To view John’s story in full click here and here

To view Kevin’s story in full click here

To view James’s story in full click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find our full collection of student stories here.
If you are a #TeamOUsport student and you would like to share your story please get in touch via WELS-Sports@open.ac.uk.

Why aren’t we educating those supporting injured players about mental health?

By Caroline Heaney

Photo by Fancy Crave on Unsplash

Recently, The Independent reported that professional football clubs are failing to provide injured players with the psychological support they need (Lovett, 2019). The psychological impact of sport injury is well documented – for example, the IOC consensus statement on mental health in elite athletes (Reardon et al., 2019) recognises that sport injury can have a significant impact on mental health, and several sportsmen and women (e.g. footballer Danny Rose) have cited injury as a trigger for mental health difficulties. So why is it that the psychological aspects of sport injury are being ignored in professional football?

The article in The Independent, which explored a study conducted by Dr Misia Gervis, pointed towards a lack of education and training amongst medical staff treating injured players – an area that I have researched extensively with my colleagues at The Open University. My early work in this area (Heaney, 2006) investigated the attitudes and perceptions of physiotherapists working in professional football and identified that whilst physiotherapists recognised that injury had a psychological impact they largely did not have the education or training to be able to respond effectively. This was supported by our 2012 investigation into physiotherapy education in the UK (Heaney et al., 2012) which revealed great diversity in the provision of psychology education in physiotherapy programmes and an inconsistency between the reported importance of psychology and the demonstrated importance of psychology through its visibility within the curriculum.

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

These findings indicate that UK physiotherapy training does not adequately prepare sports medicine staff for dealing with the psychological aspects of sport injury and that training in this area would be beneficial, but is this the case? To answer this question we conducted two further studies. The first (Heaney et al., 2017a) examined the sport psychology related attitudes and behaviours of ninety-four qualified sports injury rehabilitation professionals (physiotherapists and sports therapists) working in sport. These professionals were split into two groups – those who had been exposed to education on the psychological aspects of sport injury as part of their undergraduate or postgraduate studies and those who had not. It was found that those who had studied the psychological aspects of sport injury integrated significantly more sport psychology into their practice and referred more athletes to sport psychologists for further support than those who had not.

Photo by Hussain Ibrahim on Unsplash

The findings of this study suggest that sport psychology education is beneficial to sport injury rehabilitation professionals and the athletes they treat, but what about the professionals who aren’t lucky enough to receive sport injury psychology education as part of their undergraduate or postgraduate training? How can they access the benefits of sport injury psychology education? We wanted to know whether post-qualification continuing professional development (CPD) training on the topic can derive the same benefits and so we conducted a further study (Heaney et al., 2017b) exploring the impact of an online sport injury psychology education module on the attitudes and behaviours of ninety-five physiotherapists working in sport who had not been exposed to sport psychology education as part of their undergraduate or postgraduate training. The physiotherapists were randomly assigned to either an intervention group who studied an online CPD module titled ‘sport psychology for physiotherapists’ or a control group who studied an equivalent online CPD module on strength and conditioning which had no psychology content. Physiotherapists working in sport tend to be busy professionals who work unsociable hours and travel a lot (e.g. traveling to competitions across the country or the world) and therefore it was important that the CPD module was flexible, accessible and of a duration that would promote adherence. Consequently, an online format was adopted with a study duration of approximately 12 hours. The ‘sport psychology for physiotherapists’ module covered three main areas – (1) understanding the psychological impact of sport injury, (2) psychological skills and techniques for injured athletes, and (3) referral and professional boundaries. Attitudes and behaviours towards sport psychology were measured before the module and at three points after the module had been completed (immediately, 3 months and 6 months after). It was found that those who had studied the sport psychology module demonstrated an improvement in their attitudes towards sport psychology immediately following its completion that was significantly higher than those who had studied the control module. Use of sport psychology also increased following the sport psychology module, with significant differences seen between the intervention and control group indicating that those who had studied the sport psychology module were integrating more sport psychology techniques into their practice than those who had studied the control module.

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

The findings of this study indicated that CPD courses can address the limitations that some physiotherapists and other members of the sports medicine team have in their understanding of the psychological aspects of sport injury, but it also uncovered another issue – a distinct lack of CPD offerings in this area in the UK. We have sought to address this by developing a free Badged Open Course Exploring the psychological aspects of sport injury, which we hope will contribute to bridging the gap, but more still needs to be done to ensure that sport psychology is properly integrated into undergraduate and postgraduate training so that injured players get both the physical and psychological support they need during sport injury.

Its not all doom and gloom when it comes to this topic and its important to note that some professional football clubs do utilise sport injury protocols that integrate psychological factors and use multidisciplinary sports medicine teams that include sport psychologists to support the injured athlete. Indeed, The Independent article gives the example of Queens Park Rangers where sport psychology is firmly embedded within the treatment room. Dr Misia Gervis suggests that for this to become more commonplace “a cultural shift of practice is needed by medics, physios and coaches.” It is my belief that educating sports medicine professionals is the first and key step to enabling this cultural shift.

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Please watch the video to find out more about the free Badged Open Course (BOC) Exploring the Psychological Aspects of Sport Injury

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Free Badged Open Courses in Sport & Fitness

In addition to our undergraduate qualifications we offer a large range of free courses and educational resources, including our suite of Badged Open Courses (BOCs).

These BOCs allow you to earn an Open University digital badge for each course you successfully complete. The badge can be displayed, shared and downloaded as a marker of your achievement and so they are perfect for continuing professional development (CPD) purposes. And they are free!

Each BOC comprises 24 hours of learning spread across 8 sessions which you can study at your own pace. We currently have five sport and fitness related BOCs:

(1) Exploring sport coaching and psychology

Have you experience of sport or fitness coaching either as a participant or a coach? Are you inquisitive about how sport works behind the scenes? n this course you will explore the influence of coaching and psychology through the lens of sports people and teams who have been successful. You will focus on coaching practices used with young people and adults, including research and advice of leaders in their fields.

Content:

  1. Exploring sporting success
  2. Coaching children: fun and friendships
  3. Guiding teenagers towards success and life
  4. Comparing international level coaches
  5. Attitudes towards learning
  6. Psychological skills for life
  7. A fresh look at coaching
  8. The future of coaching

Author: Professor Ben Oakley

(2) Exploring communication and working relationships in sport

Are you experienced in sport or fitness, either as a participant or working in the sector, perhaps as a coach? Are you inquisitive about some of the hidden ‘people skills’ that seemingly make some people particularly credible in their role? In this course, you will boost your ability to vary your communication approach according to the situation and the needs of the people involved.

Content:

  1. The purposes of communication
  2. Getting your message across
  3. How can you enhance relationships?
  4. Connecting with others
  5. Becoming more influential
  6. When does harsh feedback become bullying?
  7. Power and the communication process
  8. Topical aspects of communication

Author: Professor Ben Oakley

(3) Coaching others to coach

Are you responsible for helping coaches to learn and develop? Do you consider yourself a coach developer, a coach educator, mentor, tutor or somebody who just wants to support coaches and enable them to become the best coach they can be? This course is designed to support people like you. It is a course dedicated to developing the people who develop the coaches.

Content:

  1. What do coach developers do?
  2. How do coaches learn?
  3. How do you build effective learning relationships?
  4. Developing your coach developer self-awareness
  5. Your teaching repertoire
  6. Asking good questions
  7. Effective observations and feedback
  8. Coach development for the digital age

Author: Dr Alex Twitchen

(4) Exploring the psychological aspects of sport injury

Sport injury is relatively common among sport and exercise participants, and while the physical impact of injury is often easy to recognise, the psychological impact is often less understood. In this course you will examine the relationship between injury and psychological factors, looking at the link between injury and psychology at two distinct points – before an injury has occurred and then following an injury.

Content:

  1. Sport injury and psychology – what’s the link?
  2. A holistic approach to sport injury
  3. Can psychological factors increase the risk of injury?
  4. What psychological interventions can be used to prevent sport injury?
  5. Psychological responses to sport injury
  6. What impact can psychological responses to injury have?
  7. Sport injury treatment: how can imagery, self-talk and relaxation help?
  8. Sport injury treatment: how can goal-setting and social support help?

Author: Dr Caroline Heaney

(5) Learning from burnout and overtraining

Have you experience of sport or fitness training either as a participant, coach or a parent supporting your child? Are you inquisitive about the impact of committed involvement in sport or exercise training on the individual? In this course you will explore a number of examples of sports people who have thrived and those who have experienced burnout. By exploring burnout you will gain a deeper understanding of the physical and mental aspects of sport such as athletic identity, overtraining and perfectionism.

Content:

  1. What is burnout?
  2. Perspectives of burnout
  3. Exploring identity and overtraining
  4. Insights into overtraining
  5. What role does motivation and perfectionism play?
  6. Coaches and burnout
  7. Managing those on a burnout path
  8. Strategies to reduce burnout

Author: Professor Ben Oakley

 

 

Click on the image below to download a flyer summarising all of our BOCs.

On the Ropes: Depression in Boxing

By Inspire team – Corey Johnson, Joseph Bolton, Darcy Skelton and Gavin Macdonald (E119 18J Students)


This blog was written as part of a collaborative team work task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the four best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


Boxing. The ‘Sweet Science’ of sport. It is often regarded as a macho man’s profession in which there is no place for the weak. However, having said that, in the modern day it is now becoming more prominent that boxers are suffering from inner, more personal fights of their own – Depression.

Sharkey and Gaskill (2013, p. 35) state that depression can be characterised as a collective of having low self esteem, as well as a sense of hopelessness and never ending despair. One man as of late within boxing who has suffered from such an ordeal is former WBA (Super), WBF, IBF and IBO World Heavyweight Champion, ‘The Gypsy King’, Tyson Fury.

Recently, within the past year, Tyson Fury has been incredibly open about his ordeal with depression in the hope to educate others. He was the man who had it all – fame, money and a healthy family – but he also had his demons. When appearing on the Joe Rogan Podcast (How Tyson Fury Bounced Back From Depression & Addiction, JRE MMA Show #47 with Tyson Fury, 2018), Tyson recollected a story in which he was driving towards a bridge at 190mph in a convertible Ferrari which he had only recently just bought (Blair, 2018).

He stated, “I didn’t care about nothing, I just wanted to die so bad. I gave up on life but as I was heading to the bridge I heard a voice saying, ‘No, don’t do this Tyson, think about your kids, your family, your sons and daughter growing up without a dad.”

It was at that moment Tyson decided that he needed to change not just for himself but for his family. The voice that had been putting him down throughout the years had suddenly switched and become the voice for change, to get his life back on track. In the years that followed he overcame many obstacles including battles against substance abuse, weight problems and against boxing authorities to obtain a boxing license.

His appearance on the podcast was to promote his major comeback fight against American Heavyweight boxer Deontay Wilder but it became something much more. Following the appearance he became the people’s champion and an advocate for mental health. Fury’s status grew furthermore after the fight against Wilder when he credited his renewed faith amongst other factors for his successful battle against his ill mental health.

Tyson Fury is a big name in the sports world who was affected by ill mental health. One boxer who was willing to talk to us about mental health in boxing was Team GB’s Lewis Richardson. In an interview with him he stated that;

“Mental health is neglected in boxing due to the image of the sport. Everyone see’s boxing being a macho sport and you have to be physical strong and fit however it is mentally tough”

Here, it is quite evident that due to the perception that modern day society has of boxing, issue such as depression and ill mental health are often overlooked. A lot of people don’t truly understand what elite athletes like Lewis has to go through.

He went on to say, “Mental health issues can come into play particularly with big and pressure fights, as you go to bed thinking about your opponent and that fight is always on your mind until the fight is over.”

From this you can see that fighters at any level can often put themselves into a negative cycle and frame of mind due to the obsession of the opposing boxer. The one thing on their minds is the fight, how can they combat their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses to better their own chances of a victory.

He later added, “Pressure of making weight, pressure of winning, pressure of performing at training and afraid of losing are all factors that could affect mental health in boxers as it is business and the pressure on them is extortionate.”

One key issue that could influence a negative episode could be the hype of positivity which ends up in negativity due to losing a fight or due to an injury in training. All these factors actually coincide with what Tyson Fury had to say himself. It is interesting to say that both boxers, who are going down two very different paths, both share similar beliefs in regards to such important matters.

Various studies show that depression effects one in every four people within the UK. Also, suicide as a result of depression is the biggest killer in males under the age of 45. The male to female ratio of death by suicide is 3:1, which is an alarming observation which needs to be addressed (Gigney, 2017). This is often the case due to the stigma surrounding men suffering from ill mental health and the lack of acceptance of the issue by the man himself.

In regards to sport, this issue is often escalated. This belief is supported by Sports Psychologist Dr Caroline Silby (Gigney, 2017) who, in an interview with Boxing World, states that;

“Elite athletes have a difficult time accepting emotional struggles and seeking assistance. However, once they do seek assistance they often apply their sports work ethic to their emotional recovery, making progress more likely.”

This statement is backed up by Tyson Fury himself who decided the best to overcome his struggles was to box along is long journey of recovery. He openly admits that he still has his off-days in which he has some negatives thought but that is a fairly normal for somebody going through these issues.

Depression can take effect on anybody, no matter how big or small a person is. Boxing proves this, these elite athletes who are stereotyped to be ‘macho men’ can be brought down to rock bottom as a result of depression. However, one thing to remember is that if you, the reader, are going through a battle like this then you too can overcome it with the correct support.

Links for information on Mental Health support

NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/how-to-access-mental-health-services/

Time to change – https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/mental-health-and-stigma/help-and-support

Mind – https://www.mind.org.uk/about-us/our-policy-work/sport-physical-activity-and-mental-health/

Reference list

Blair, A. (2018) Tyson Fury opens up on depression, boxing career and Deontay Wilder fight [Online]. Available at https://www.news.com.au/sport/boxing/tyson-fury-opens-up-on-depression-boxing-career-and-deontay-wilder-fight/news-story/54479d963a55b8da9c5ede2f86660f42 (Accessed on 29/01/2019).

 Gigney, G. (2017) LONG READ Boxing needs to address its mental health problem [Online]. Available at http://www.boxingnewsonline.net/long-read-boxing-needs-to-address-its-mental-health-problem/ (Accessed on 29/01/2019).

Joe Rogan – How Tyson Fury Bounced Back From Depression & Addiction (25/10/2018) YouTube video, added by JRE Clips [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrM6WqYEj9Y (Accessed on 29/01/2019).

JRE MMA Show #47 with Tyson Fury (25/10/2018) YouTube video, added by PowerfulJRE [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNZtibrPo0g (Accessed on 29/01/2019).

Sharkey, B. and Gaskill, S. (2013) Fitness and Health (7th edn). Leeds, Human Kinetics.

The Dark-side of the Paralympics

By The Spartans – Jonathon Ingham, George Robinson, Harry Katsanikakis and Eve Williams (E119 18J Students)


This blog was written as part of a collaborative team work task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the four best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


Every four years the Paralympic games are hosted as a parallel to the Olympics. This paramount international multi-sport event has become the largest single sporting movement globally, full of numerous inspirational, admirable athletes, leading to an emotional para-sport. As the Paralympian’s have a vast range of disabilities, from impaired muscle power such as muscular dystrophy, to limb deficiencies caused by amputations, the need for characterisations is crucial. However, these classifications are of high-priority, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) (2014) illustrates the worry of predictable competition, in which the most able athlete always wins. Hence, the division of para-athletes into ‘sport classes’, established upon their impairment, preventing such concerns.

What is the classification system?

Any Paralympian has a competitive disadvantage when it comes to sport. Hence the classification system. The system allows for the division of para-athletes into their correlative sporting groups, identifying the severity of their impairments. The intention of the classification system is to decrease the impact of individual physical impairments on the overall sports performance, identifying the athletes according to their limitations in a certain sport. The athlete’s fitness, skill, power, ability, focus and tactical ability are now relatively proportional to their competitors, ensuring for equal chance at success, with fair qualifying. Athlete’s performance is dependent on the sport, each sport requires performance of different activities. Consequently, the impact on impairments differs, for classification to minimise the effect on sporting performance classification must be specific (IPC, 2014).

However, the Paralympics permits the observer ignorance, watching from behind a tv or, if lucky enough, the stadium, yet it’s not so innocent. The precise classification process allows exploitation, the IPC warned the BBC (2017) of intentional misrepresentation – athletes bluffing, pretending to have a graver disability with the hope to compete in favourable classes. Paralympian’s described the process of more able-bodied athletes being put into the same categories as severely disabled athletes, with the intention to win by cheating. In the words of hand cyclist Liz McTernan (2017) “we’re not all inspiring, we’re not all ethical”, faking disability is no different to doping.

Blood tests confirm the miss use of drugs, unfortunately, the ability to prove such impairment cheats is not so simple, with no definite way to verify allegations. Despite this, Van de Vliet (2017), the IPCs medical and scientific director, as well as head of classifications, has reassured specific athletes are monitored, with the view to identify consistent manifestation during performances, on-going investigations, with some cases being processed by external legal counsels.

What are the Dirty Tactics?

Further investigations, such as that by the BBC (2017) uncovered the ‘dirty tactics’, manipulating the classification system. Allegedly, schemes were employed by both athletes and coaches.

  • The taping of arms. Swimmers spend days with arms strapped, the tape being removed just before classification, full extension of the limb is now unachievable.
  • Taking cold showers. A swimmer with Cerebral Palsy is submerged into a cold environment, further worsening their already weak muscle tone, or
  • The shortening and removal of limbs. Operations being held with the bid to physically distort athletes, when questioned some athletes described “advance in career”.
  • Athletes using wheelchairs solely for classification, no other time is such equipment used.
  • “Boosting”. Explained by Carpenter (2012) as intentionally increasing blood pressure stimulating the body’s energy and endurance, consequently allowing Paralympian’s to enhance their levels of performance artificially.
  • Classifiers are coaches. Specific to an athlete’s sport, coaches fake the severity of their Paralympian’s disability.

These modern tricks are now described as the para-equivalent to doping. The classification process being criticised due to sport class expansion, allowing less impaired athletes to compete against extreme cases. The classification controversy is with hope to increase medal chances, and sponsorship. Accusations of intimidation and bullying are also present, many athletes are afraid to speak out, fearful they will not be selected for the sport they love (Grey-Thompson, 2017). Cheating in the Paralympics is proof athletes are prepared to go to extreme lengths to stand on the podium.

What does this mean for future Paralympian’s?

Ultimately, the Paralympics is a means of enjoyment, internationally inspiring various social groups proving the impossible is possible. If only this viewpoint was enough to end cheating, unfortunately not.

Ongoing investigations into the Paralympian classification systems, as well as several inquiries into sporting governance are all with the intention to prevent deception. Eriksson, head coach at the Paralympics GB Team 2012, states classifiers are ‘doing the best they can’ (2017). Although, elaborates on the belief the process pinpointing the lies requires an independent organisation, comparable to the World Anti-Doping Agency, using drugs in sport and the means of prevention as guidance.

Strong evidence is a must, confirming cheats is a sensitive issue, for this reason there’s a demand for a powerful case. Paralympic cheating needs to be tackled, tougher punishment, strong repercussions, the same penalties for doping infractions. The hope independent organisations attack the frauds, depleting dishonesty and lies, allowing for less questionable classification to occur.

References

Carpenter, K – Law in Sport (2012). [Online] Available at: https://www.lawinsport.com/blog/kevin-carpenter/item/the-dark-side-of-the-paralympics-cheating-through-boosting

Peter Eriksson – I’m handing back my medal’, a Paralympic study (2017). [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/disability-sport/41851149

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