Paralympic plight probed

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Athletes with an intellectual disability may be re-admitted to the Paralympics next year, after one team's cheating scandal got them all evicted following the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.

The Spanish wheelchair basketball team that won the tournament for athletes with intellectual disabilities at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics was stripped of the gold after it was revealed only two of its 12 athletes were eligible.

The scandal highlighted the Paralympic movement's growing pains and the controversy over using IQ tests to measure intellectual ability.

It's possible to assess a physical disability, but classification is not as clear-cut for mental disability.

"The typical method is the good old IQ test," said Brian MacPherson, chief operating officer of the Canadian Paralympic Committee. "If you have an IQ of less than 75 you're considered a person with an intellectual disability. There are flaws with it. It all comes down to question-and answer-testing."

HASTY MOVE

The International Paralympic Committee reacted -- rather hastily, one could argue -- to the scandal by canceling all events for intellectually disabled athletes at the Paralympics and offering events only for athletes with a physical disability. That has been the case at the Paralympics in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.

Now, though, there's talk of reinstating intellectually disabled athletes in to the Paralympics in time for the London Paralympic Games in 2012.

"There's a strong commitment to getting this resolved and also a strong recognition that this has dragged on way too long," said Dr. Jennifer Mactavish, a Canadian researcher and professor at the University of Manitoba. "The biggest concern for me is the athletes, so we're hoping we're close."

London, England is where the International Sports Federation for Persons with an Intellectual Disability is based, so there's a serious dose of political pressure to resolve this in time for London's turn to host the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012.

Mactavish, a professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management, is on the international working group tasked with coming up with classification guidelines for athletes with an intellectual disability.

She points out that ensuring a level playing field is not as simple as administering an IQ test. It's now required that all disability groups and sports have a system of classification that accounts for the impact of a person's impairment in sport.

"There has to be a way of demonstrating that it has a bearing on their sport," Mactavish explained. "It has to be based on scientifically valid and reliable points of measurement, so we're working right now on how to tease out ways of substantiating that impact."

For example in team sports, they're looking at the difficulties an intellectually disabled athlete might have with decision-making, tactics, or adopting the right strategy.

Regardless of the advanced work being done, Mactavish feels at the end of the day the issue will come down to a political decision. Britain has been quite vocal and progressive in declaring this a priority. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics organizing committee? Not so much.

"I've been a little bit embarrassed and disappointed that the Canadian Paralympic Committee hasn't done the same for VANOC," Mactavish noted.

A final go-ahead on this won't come until November 2009 if ratified by the International Paralympic Committee's General Assembly at that time. Then, the Canadian Association of Athletes with an Intellectual Disability would have to start identifying and registering eligible athletes who would go to qualifying competitions.

Athletes in the classroom

Now in its 20th year, the Canadian Olympic School Program this week launched a ton of new programming for students in Grade 2 through lesson plans, contests and an interactive website at www.olympicschool.ca.

Four new Olympian stories feature speed skater Gaetan Boucher on the value of excellence, skier Thomas Grandi on leadership, figure skating duo Jaime Sale and David Pelletier on respect and fair play, and 2010 Chef de Mission Nathalie Lambert on the impact of the approaching Olympic Winter Games.

As well, speed skater Clara Hughes, snowboarder Alexa Loo and figure skater Jeffrey Buttle are the focus of stories and activities designed to teach students how to manage money.


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