WITH the biggest number of sports contested, the recent 9th Asean Para Games Kuala Lumpur 2017 — hosted for the third time in the country — was filled with exciting and inspiring performances by 1,500 athletes who took part in the seven-day event.
A total of 368 gold medals were up for grabs in the 16 sports contested, with Malaysia forming the largest contingent of 331 athletes.
Some 1,115 local and foreign officials served as technical delegates, international technical officials, national technical officials and classification officials.
Before competing in the games, the para athletes underwent a three-day classification process — a functional assessment by a panel — to determine the sport categories they belong to and their eligibility to participate.
Classification provides a structure for the competition to ensure that the athletes compete fairly based on their impairment and its impact on their functional ability.
This year, the classifiers were from a few universities in the country such as Universiti Teknologi Mara and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
Professor Datuk Dr Rokiah Omar, a low-vision specialist from UKM who is also Asean Para Sports Federation (APSF) classification director, said the athletes are systematically grouped into sports classes according to their physical, visual or intellectual impairment in each sport.
APSF and the Malaysia Organising Committee (MASOC) are committed to providing classification services that represent the highest standards of honesty, integrity and dignity throughout the Asean Para Games in compliance with the International Paralympic Committee Code of Ethics.
The functions of the classification services include developing transparent procedures and policies for sports class and sports class status allocation, and providing the best possible working environment, ensuring efficient and accurate classification of athletes.
There are three types of impairment in disabled sports — physical, visual and intellectual. Each sport has its own para sport rules depending on the type of impairment the athlete has.
For example in visual impairment, there are three levels of impairment whereas in physical impairment, the impairments range from limb amputations to neurological disorders and spinal cord injuries.
“The duty of a classifier is to ensure that athletes are eligible to compete and they are placed in the correct sport class based on their level of disability to ensure they compete fairly,” said Dr Rokiah, who is the first optometrist in Asia to be inducted as an International Blind Sports Federation classifier in 2006.
As an international classifier, she has been involved in various national, regional and international sporting events.
She was appointed as classification director for the Incheon 2014 Asian Para Games and 8th Asean Para Games Singapore 2015.
As an appointed classification director, her role is to oversee classifications performed at these multi-sport games and ensure that the classifications are conducted in accordance with the rules and regulations of the particular sport.
“Without classifiers, it will be difficult to place the athletes into their proper sport class to allow them to compete fairly. Classifiers ensure that athletes get to compete in the correct games.”
Also in the classifier team from UKM are Dr Mohd Harimi Abd Rahman (chief classifier visual impairment), Gan Chun Hong (intellectual impairment classifier) and Norashikin Mohamed Noor (athletic classifier).
Dr Mohd Harimi said athletes competing in Paralympic sports have an impairment that leads to a competitive disadvantage in a sport.
“Classification provides a structure for fair and equitable competition within the Paralympic Movement.
“It groups athletes with disabilities into sports classes according to how much their impairment affects their ability to carry out the fundamental activities in a specific sport.
“The purpose of classification is to define who competes in para sport and ensure that the impact of impairment in each event is minimised.
“Classification ensures that the success of an athlete is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus,” he added.
Each sport has its own disability criteria which can be grouped into three broad categories — visual impairment, intellectual impairment and physical impairment which may be mild, moderate or severe.
To be either locally or internationally certified, classifiers apply to pursue a course, sit an examination and complete training by working under the supervision of a classification instructor from a particular sport.
A classifier generally has a degree or qualifications in a suitable healthcare discipline or, in certain sports, possesses technical qualifications in the sport.
It is the collective responsibility of each National Paralympic Committee (NPC) through its chef de mission and relevant team officials to inform athletes about and to comply with the Asean Para Games classification policies and procedures before and during the events.
“It is their responsibility to ensure that accurate classification information is provided to MASOC before the arrival of athletes in the host country,” added Dr Rokiah.
Dr Mohd Harimi added that the NPC ensures that athletes are informed about requirements related to the classification procedures.
“Each NPC must identify an official within its contingent who will be responsible for all communications during the games, beginning with the classification evaluation.”
Gan said it is important to engage intellectually-impaired athletes psychologically to know their behaviour.
Two tests — an IQ test (level 70 and below being the minimum eligibility criteria to participate in the games) and adaptive functional behaviour test — are used.
“One of the conditions is that athletes are able to adapt to their surroundings even though they have a low level of IQ,” added Gan, who has eight years of experience as a classifier.