Friday 19 July 2019

The bureaucracy of international competition

Yesterday evening at my shooting club I had a discussion with another member about the administrative tasks involved in competing at an international competition. I think they were a bit surprised at what is involved, you might be as well if you are not involved in international vision impaired sport.

Today I am just going to focus on the sight classification process. I possibly have a unique perspective on sight classification as I know what went into developing the sight classification system through my work in IBSA, but I have also experienced it as an athlete.

The purpose of sight classification is to minimise the inequality caused by the different levels of vision impairments of the competitors. You would not want it that those with the best sight always win the competition because their sight gives them an advantage. To solve this problem sight classification determines who is allowed to compete in the vision impaired form of the sport, it may split competitors into various classes depending upon their sight or introduce rules to mitigate any remaining inequalities. In shooting all competitors who are allowed to participate as a vision impaired shooter compete in a single class, mainly because the sport is so small at the moment and we need to keep the competition meaningful with enough competitors competing against each other. Shooting does have some rules to help mitigate the inequalities which may exist, such as allowing the assistant to provide information about where shots have hit the target to athletes who cannot see the target display. A number of vision impaired sports do use blindfolds, which is a controversial topic as some feel it is wrong to make someone more disabled than they are normally and there is the question whether this temporary additional impairment may actually disadvantage those with some sight by placing them under conditions which is not their normal. There is no evidence showing whether blindfolds really achieve the equalisation they are meant to. Interestingly whilst World Shooting ParaSport has made a rule allowing them to require the use of opaque glasses by competitors, this rule will not be enforced this year and they avoided terming it a blindfold.

Now you know the basics of why sight classification is done and what it is, time to discuss the administrative work of how it is done. The first thing for the shooter is prior to competing internationally, they must get their ophthalmologist to complete a form about the vision impairment and also provide medical evidence. From my experience in IBSA, many shooters claim they have trouble getting their ophthalmologist to complete the form in time and sometimes the ophthalmologist not being familiar with the sight classification process does not provide all required details. The next part is that about a day or two before the competition the shooter will be seen by a sight classifier, who will check the medical documents submitted and see whether it is consistent with what they observe when examining the eyes or doing eye tests. The sight classifier will then determine if the shooter is allowed to compete and what sight class will be assigned.

Unfortunately there is no short cut through the above. Sight classification must be done by an international sight classifier according to the international sight classification system, so a national sight classification will not help. Thankfully for those where it is very clear they lack sight and there is no possibility of variation in sight, a sight classifier may assign the shooter confirmed status which means they need not go through the process again. However for the rest, they will have a review date set on their classification for when they will need to be classified again. The review date may depend upon how likely their sight is to vary over time, in the worst case someone may need classifying before each international competition.

This sight classification thing may seem like a load of bureaucracy, as an athlete I know how it may seem excessive. However I guess there will be people who may try and cheat so the system needs to be as water tight as possible. Is the system perfect, no I don't think so and I hope World Shooting ParaSport keep it under review as more people start competing and thus more data and evidence becomes available.

So that is the short explanation of sight classification. Now remember sight classification is just one of the administrative tasks. There are things like anti-doping, making sure medications are permitted and if not applying for a therapeutic use exemption. I also have to arrange all my own travel and hotels for these international competitions. Its surprising how all this adds up, there is more to it than just going and shooting a rifle. There are times when shooting feels like the easy bit.

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