Tokyo Paralympics: What you need to know about Paralympic classification

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The Paralympic Games logo
The Paralympics are being held for the second time in Tokyo
Venue: Tokyo, Japan Dates: 24 August-5 September Time in Tokyo: BST +8
Coverage: Follow on Radio 5 Live and on the BBC Sport website

The 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo involves 22 sports but not all disability categories can compete in each event.

Each sport has different physical demands and so has its own set of classifications.


Archers competing at the Rio Paralympics
Archers in the W1 event at the Rio Paralympics

Archery is open to athletes with a physical disability and classification is broken up into two classes:

Open: Includes athletes who have an impairment in their legs and use a wheelchair or have a balance impairment and shoot standing or resting on a stool. Competitors use either recurve or compound bows, depending on the event.

W1: Wheelchair users with impairment in all four limbs with either a clear loss of muscle strength, coordination or range of movement.


Britain's Hannah Cockroft competes in the women's T34 800m at the 2016 Rio Paralympics
Hannah Cockroft on her way to T34 800m glory in Rio

All impairment groups can compete in athletics but a system of letters and numbers is used to distinguish each class.

A letter F is for field athletes, T represents those who compete on the track, and the number shown refers to their impairment.

11-13: Track and field athletes who are visually impaired. Blind athletes compete in class 11, wear compulsory blindfolds and run with a guide runner. Athletes in class 12 are visually impaired but running with a guide is optional.

20: Track and field athletes who are intellectually impaired. Athletes in this class have difficulty with reaction time and memory recognition during an event.

31-38: Track and field athletes with cerebral palsy or other neurological conditions that affect muscle coordination and control. Athletes in classes 31-34 compete in a seated position (using a racing or throwing chair), while athletes in classes 35-38 compete standing.

40-41: Track and field athletes with short stature (also known medically as dwarfism).

42-44: Track and field athletes with lower limb impairments who do not use prosthesis.

45-47: Track and field athletes with upper limb impairments.

T51-54: Wheelchair track athletes. Athletes in class 51-52 are affected in both lower and upper limbs. T53 athletes have fully functioning arms but have no trunk function at all, while T54 athletes have partial trunk and leg functions.

F51-57: Wheelchair field athletes. Athletes in F51-54 classes have limited shoulder, arm and hand functions and no trunk or leg function, while F54 athletes have normal function in their arms and hands. In the F55-57 classes the trunk and leg function increases.

T61-64: Track and field athletes with lower limb impairments who use prosthesis.


Japan's Hiroshi Murayama and Rie Ogura
Badminton will be making its Paralympic debut in Tokyo

Badminton competitors are divided into six classes (two wheelchair classes and four standing classes).

WH1 and WH2 classes are for wheelchair users. WH1 athletes have a more severe impairment than WH2 athletes.

SL3 and SL4 competitors are standing athletes with lower limb impairments.

SU5 competitors are standing athletes with upper limb impairment.

SH6 competitors are short stature (dwarf) athletes.


Jamie McCowan of Great Britain competes in the Boccia at the Rio Paralympics
GB’s Jamie McCowan made his boccia debut in Rio

Boccia (a bowling game) is open to athletes with cerebral palsy and other severe physical disabilities (such as muscular dystrophy) who compete from a wheelchair, with classification split into four classes.

BC1: Players with cerebral palsy who are able to use their hands or feet to consistently propel a ball into play. BC1 athletes may have an aide on court to pass them their ball before each shot but do not use assistive devices.

BC2: Players with cerebral palsy who are able to use their hands to consistently propel a ball into play and have greater functional ability than a BC1 athlete.

BC3: Players with cerebral palsy or other impairments in all four limbs who are unable to throw or kick a ball into play. The athletes are permitted to use an assistive device such as a ramp to propel the ball into play and are supported by an assistant who adjusts the ramp on the instructions of the player.

BC4: Players who do not have cerebral palsy but have another impairment in all four limbs and have similar functional ability to BC2 athletes. Conditions such as muscular dystrophy, spina bifida and tetraplegia will fall under this classification.


Swimmer turned canoeist Charlotte Henshaw in action
Former swimmer Charlotte Henshaw will be competing in her second sport in Tokyo

All athletes with physical impairments are eligible to compete in canoeing using either a kayak (KL) with a double blade paddle or the va’a (VL) which is a long canoe with an outrigger on one side and is propelled with a single paddle. They are grouped into three sport classes per boat.

KL1: Athletes in this sports class have no or very limited trunk function and no leg function.

KL2: Athletes have partial trunk and leg function; they are able to sit upright in the kayak. Along with this, they will have limited leg movement during paddling.

KL3: Athletes have trunk and partial leg function and are usually able to use at least one prosthetic.

VL1: Athletes with no dynamic trunk function.

VL2: Athletes are given a score depending on their trunk function and leg function and the class includes athletes who score lower in the one function than the other.

VL3: Athletes have full or almost-full dynamic trunk function.


Action from the handcycling events at the 2021 Para-cycling Road World Cup
Handcycling events are competed for on the road only

Cycling is open to athletes who have impaired muscle power, impaired range of movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis (which may result from cerebral palsy, a brain injury, a stroke or multiple sclerosis) or a visual impairment.

Athletes compete on bicycles in track and road race events and on handcycles and tricycles on the road.

C1-5: Riders compete on bicycles, which can be adapted for their impairments. They may have a condition like cerebral palsy or have a leg or arm amputation. C1 athletes have the most severe limitation while C5 athletes meet the minimum impairment criteria. For example, an athlete with a double leg amputation would compete in the C3 class, while an athlete with a single leg amputation would compete a class higher in C4.

B: Visually impaired riders compete on tandem bikes with a sighted guide.

H1-5: Categories for handcyclists. Riders in H1-4 compete in a reclined position. H1 athletes have no trunk or leg function and limited arm function while H3 athletes have no leg function but good trunk and arm function. H5 athletes sit on their knees and use their arms and trunk.

T1-2: Categories for athletes who are unable to ride a bicycle because of a condition affecting their balance and coordination and instead use a trike. Athletes in the T1 class have more serious coordination problems then T2 athletes.


Lee Pearson of Great Britain, riding Zion, at the Rio Paralympic Games
Lee Pearson has collected at least one gold medal at all four of the Paralympic Games he has attended

All impairment groups can take part in equestrian sport with Para-dressage the only event on the Paralympic programme.

There are five grades in the sport, with riders divided depending upon the nature and extent of their impairment. All athletes compete together including the physically impaired and vision impaired, and men and women. The level of difficulty of the test they perform is relative to their allocated grade.

Grade I: Severely disabled riders with impairments of all limbs and poor trunk control who usually use a wheelchair in daily life.

Grade II: Riders with either severely reduced trunk control and minimal upper limb conditions or moderate upper and lower limb and trunk conditions. Most use a wheelchair in daily life.

Grade III: Riders have a very limited ability in both lower limbs and a good trunk balance, or milder limitations in upper and lower limbs with reduced trunk control. Some use a wheelchair in daily life.

Grade IV: Ambulant riders (those able to walk independently) who have impairments in both arms or have no arms, or moderate impairments of all four limbs. This category also includes blind riders and those with conditions such as dwarfism.

Grade V: Ambulant athletes with either impaired vision or reduced motion or muscle strength or impaired arm or leg function.

Five-a-side football

Action in Brazil's goal area during the Men's Gold Medal Match between Brazil v Islamic Republic of Iran. 5-a-side Football at the Olympic Tennis Centre at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Brazil takes on Iran in the gold-medal match at the Rio Paralympic Games

Five-a-side football is played by those with a visual impairment.

All players in the five-a-side game must wear eyeshades except the goalkeeper, who is sighted but cannot leave the area. There are no offside rules.

The football contains ball bearings to produce a noise when it moves.


Jimmy Bjoerkstrand and Fatmir Seremeti block a ball from Brazil during their men's bronze-medal match of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Sweden’s Jimmy Bjoerkstrand and Fatmir Seremeti attempt to make a save

Goalball is played by visually impaired athletes and a special rule means there is no need for classification.

Participants wear blackout masks to ensure everyone, whether blind or visually impaired, competes equally. The masks are checked during the game.

The ball has bells inside it to help to orientate the players and, as a result, the game is played in total silence.


Lucija Breskovic of Croatia (white) battles with Naomi Soazo of Venezuela (blue) Womens - 70kg Judo Bronze Medal bout at the Rio Paralympic Games
Lucija Breskovic (white) takes on Naomi Soaza (blue) in the women’s bronze-medal bout at Rio 2016

Judo is contested by visually impaired athletes only. There is no categorisation as competitors are divided by weight in the same way as sighted athletes.

The main difference is that athletes begin the bout “gripped up” (holding each other) rather than apart.

A red circle on the sleeve of their Judogi (competition outfit) indicates an athlete who is completely blind while competitors who are deaf have a small blue circle on the back right-hand corner of their outfit.


GB powerlifter Micky Yule in action at Rio 2016
Britain’s Micky Yule competes at the Rio Paralympics

Powerlifting is open to all athletes with a physical disability and is classified by weight alone.

Powerlifters competing at the Paralympics have disabilities in their lower limbs or hips, including paralysis, cerebral palsy and lower limb amputation.

Both male and female competitors take part in 10 separate weight classes.


GB rowers Lauren Rowles and Laurence Whiteley competing for Great Britain
Lauren Rowles and Laurence Whiteley are the dominant crew in the PR2 event

Rowing is divided into three classes:

PR1: Athletes have full movement in their arms and shoulders with limited or no leg function, e.g. spinal cord injuries. They have poor balance so are strapped into the boat.

PR2: Athletes with a good level of trunk and arm movement but reduced leg movement. These athletes are not able to utilise a sliding seat when rowing.

PR3: Open to athletes with an impairment but who have movement in the legs, trunk and arms. This class also includes visually impaired rowers.


Action from the Rio Paralympics
Medals in Paralympic shooting can be decided by millimetres

Shooters are divided into wheelchair and standing groups.

These divisions are split into six sub-classes, each of which determines the type of mobility equipment the competitor is allowed to use.

SH1: For pistol and rifle competitors who do not require a shooting stand. Athletes in this class usually have an impairment in one limb. Athletes can choose to compete sitting or standing.

SH2: For rifle competitors who have an impairment in their arms and therefore require a shooting stand. Most competitors in this class compete in a wheelchair.

Sitting volleyball

Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina compete during the men's sitting volleyball gold-medal match at Rio 2016
Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina compete during the men’s sitting volleyball gold-medal match

Sitting volleyball is contested by athletes with a physical impairment with the majority being amputees.

There are two classes called minimally disabled (MD) and disabled (D) and a team may only have one MD player on the court while the other five players have to be classed as D.

Examples of a minimally disabled player include anterior cruciate ligament injuries and missing fingers.


Britain's Ellie Simmonds in action at the Rio Paralympics
Ellie Simmonds will be hoping to add to her medal tally in Tokyo

Swimming is the only sport that combines the conditions of limb loss, cerebral palsy (coordination and movement restrictions), spinal cord injury (weakness or paralysis involving any combination of the limbs) and other disabilities (such as dwarfism and major joint restriction conditions) across classes.

1-10: Swimmers with a physical impairment. The lower the number, the more severe the impairment.

11-13: Swimmers with a visual impairment. Swimmers in the 11 category must wear blackened goggles and use a tapper to ensure their safety approaching the wall. Swimmers in the 12 and 13 classes can choose whether to use a tapper or not.

14: Swimmers with an intellectual impairment.

The prefix S denotes the class for freestyle, backstroke and butterfly. SB denotes the class for breaststroke, and SM denotes the class for individual medley.

The prefix and class number provide a range of classifications, from swimmers with severe disability (S1, SB1, SM1) to those with minimal disability (S10, SB9, SM10).

In any one class, swimmers may start with a dive or already in the water. This is taken into account when classifying an athlete.

Swimmers may have a classification that varies according to their event – for example, it may change between breaststroke and backstroke, according to the effect of their movements on the event in question.

Para-table tennis

Rena McCarron Rooney of Ireland serves during the quarter-finals against Su-Yeon Seo of South Korea in table tennis at the Rio Paralympic Games
Ireland’s Rena McCarron Rooney serves to Su-Yeon Seo of South Korea at Rio 2016

Table tennis is played by athletes with a physical or intellectual disability divided into 11 classes.

1-5: Athletes competing from a wheelchair, with class one the most severely impaired and class five the least impaired.

6-10: Ambulant athletes, with class six the most severely impaired and class 10 the least.

11: Athletes with an intellectual impairment.


Mehmet Vasif Yakut of Turkey in action against Iran's Mahdi Bahramiazar
Taekwondo will be part of the Paralympic programme for the first time

Tokyo 2020 will only have events for athletes in the K43 or K44 class. The event is combined and named K44. There will be three weight categories per gender.

K43 includes athletes with bilateral amputation below the elbow, or equivalent loss of function in both upper limbs.

K44 includes athletes with unilateral arm amputation (or equivalent loss of function), or loss of toes which impact the ability to lift the heel properly.


Melissa Stockwell of the United States competes in the run of the women's triathlon T2 at the Rio Paralympic Games
Two-time Paralympic athlete Melissa Stockwell of the United States

Triathlon is divided into six classes for both men and women.

PT1: This class is for wheelchair users. They swim, cycle using a hand-bike and complete the 5km run in a racing wheelchair.

PT2-5: These classes are for ambulant athletes whose impairments include loss of muscle strength, range of movement and loss of limbs. They can cycle using approved adaptations and run with or without the use of prosthetics.

PTVI: This class is for visually impaired athletes who have the option to ride a tandem cycle and run with a guide.

Wheelchair basketball

Brian Bell of USA in action during the men's wheelchair basketball gold-medal match between Spain and USA at the Rio Paralympic Games
Team USA take on Spain in the gold-medal match at the Rio Paralympic Games

Basketball is open to wheelchair athletes, whose impairments may include paraplegia, lower limb amputation, cerebral palsy and polio.

Athletes are classified according to their physical ability to complete all tasks related to a basketball game.

All players are given a points rating between 1.0 and 4.5 – a 1.0 point player equates to the most severe impairment, 4.5 to the least.

Each team fields five players but the rating of each player must not exceed a total of 14 points at any time on court.

Wheelchair fencing

Andrei Pranevich of Belarus battles Ammar Ali of Iraq in the final of Wheelchair Fencing Men's Category B at the Rio Paralympic Games
Andrew Pranevich takes on Ammar Ali at the Rio Paralympics

Fencing is open to wheelchair athletes, whose impairments may include spinal cord injuries, lower limb amputation and cerebral palsy and whose conditions prohibit them from competing against standing, able-bodied fencers.

Athletes competing in this event are split into two classes.

Category A: Athletes with good balance and recovery, and full trunk movement with a fully functioning fencing arm. Not all athletes in this class use a wheelchair in daily life.

Category B: Athletes with poor balance and recovery, but full use of one or both upper limbs. The fencing arm they use may be affected and usually support themselves with their non-fencing arm while in action.

Wheelchair rugby

Wheelchair rugby players from Australia and Japan compete during the semi-final at the Rio Paralympic Games
Wheelchair rugby players from Australia and Japan compete during the semi-final at the Rio Paralympic Games

Wheelchair rugby athletes are classified using a points system, with the most severely impaired athletes being graded at 0.5 points, rising to 3.5 points for the more able.

Each team is comprised of four players and is allowed a maximum of eight points on court at any one time.

Wheelchair tennis

Gordon Reid of Great Britain returns a shot at the Men's Singles Wheelchair Tennis gold medal match at the Rio Paralympic Games
Gold medallist Gordon Reid in action at the Rio Paralympic Games

Tennis is played from a wheelchair with two classes – open and quad (players in this class have impairments in three or more limbs).

In wheelchair tennis competitions, players are allowed two bounces of the ball, the first bounce being within the bounds of the court.

Players in the quad class have a severe impairment in their legs with some level of impairment in their playing arm. Most players in this class usually attach the racket to their hand using a strap.

The open class is for all other physically impaired athletes that use a wheelchair but some athletes in this class do not use a wheelchair in daily life.