The Bigger ? Beyond Josef Craig’s Tattoo DQ: Does The Disability Of Swimmers Ring True?

Josef Craig and his tattoo - youtube. Inset, honoured by Queen Elizabeth II

Editorial: Let’s be clear: unpalatable in the extreme to see a 19-year-old para-swimmer with cerebral palsy disqualified for bearing the Olympic rings on his chest. Why would the IPC do that? The biggest question is why federations agreed to have the rule there in the first place; and then the biggest question of all is not the rings on Craig’s chest but the claims of Intentional Misrepresentation threatening to sink para-swimming

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Editorial: Let’s be clear: unpalatable in the extreme to see a 19-year-old para-swimmer with cerebral palsy disqualified for bearing the Olympic rings on his chest. Why would the IPC do that? The biggest question is why federations agreed to have the rule there in the first place; and then the biggest question of all is not the rings on Craig’s chest but the claims of Intentional Misrepresentation threatening to sink para-swimming


Felix Sanchez

Craig, I couldn’t agree more with your ‘all of you’ comments. If one wants things run well, one has to take an active interest. The situation is much like when disgruntled voters complain that democracy isn’t working because they didn’t get exactly who they want, yet the only thing they ever bothered doing was turn up and vote on Election Day. However, as it is ‘all of you’/’all of us’, it is also important that we don’t see a false solution to sports governance in a greater voice for certain interest groups. The right people should take a constant interest.

The classification problem in disability swimming is very tricky. The athletes themselves talk about it constantly, and always have done. However, an important difference now is the increased media coverage of para-sport receives. A few years ago the Paralympics was generally considered ‘for them’, a challenge and goal for the athletes themselves, but not of interest to the wider world like the ‘real’ Olympics. Recently, whether through genuine interest or political correctness, the coverage has dramatically increased. Sadly, this turns the athletes, like Olympians, into pseudo state employees. The inevitable result is that like the attitude of many to drugs. Not so much a clear line between cheating and honesty, but an attempt to get away with what you can.

Craig Lord

Good note, Felix. Spot on.


Rules are rules, well played IPC, the guy deserved(?) to be punished for breaking the rules. Now then, let’s roll our sleeves up and address IM because rules are after all rules.

Silly me. The IPC only follow their rules as and when it suits them to. Let’s DQ over a tattoo but ignore eg annual review of short statured minors because that makes a whole lot of sense and won’t affect competition in Rio at all, unless they have an Olympic tattoo of course.

The classification system used is woefully inadequate. They prove it time and time again. Is it the best that they’ve got? I doubt it. It is not a highly technical process, it is highly subjective and open to interpretation. To further muddy the waters, since September 2015 a new set of rules were introduced – Passive Functional Range of Motion replaced Active Functional Range of Motion. Plus amendments made to the Technical (water) Testing where, at long last, swimmers have to swim 50m of each stroke. Remember learn to swim classes anyone? Can you imagine passing your 50m backstroke swim proficiency by performing a back float? So, swimmers pre September 2015 have been classified under the old rules where a back float was sufficient testing for backstroke. To highlight this nonsense, a swimmer was controversially classed down during her 100m backstroke swim in July 2015. What were they comparing it to in the Technical (water) Test I wonder? It is also usual for swimmers to be viewed in competition during multi-class races and, there maybe two or three swimmers that a single classification panel (of 2) must watch to confirm classification in one heat of the 200 IM. Because that sounds highly technical and fair.

Some organising committees are pushing through questionable athletes and this should be taken seriously by the IPC. It is not. There sure are swimmers competing in classes who should not be there, period. There are also cases where swimmers on review are classed up, down and out – does that sound like the outcome from a highly technical process? Not to me it doesn’t.

It takes a lot of perseverance to keep raising the same issues over and over and people naturally give up over time. The ones that are left poking away are the ones that are eventually listened to one way or another.

james bond

It just beggars belief that the IPC can be presented with evidence extremely suggestive of intentional misrepresentation and their response is that people need to come forward with hard and fast evidence to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Why on earth would that be the responsibility of members of the public? Surely this is now the responsibility of the IPC to present this evidence to independent medical specialists and begin a thorough investigation of athletes and their support personnel.
As for classifications being “highly technical in nature” I think most athletes and parents familiar with the ridiculously inadequate, biased and random process they call classification would have a somewhat different take on it.
I guess another point to bring up is why, if classification is as reliable as the IPC would like us to believe, have so many neurologically impaired athletes been moved up a class or classes in the last 2 years, even when some of them have conditions which are progressive and others conditions which cannot possibly improve? That in itself is evidence that someone is getting it very wrong.

Paul Wittingham

The logic of IPC Media Director Craig Spence, as usual ripped apart like warm bread.

We have received pictures and videos of an athlete with a clawed and normal hand.
It is not up to us (IPC) to investigate.
The general public must come forward with proof.

Rubbish. That is the most polite word I can think of given the severity of the circumstances – IM in sport.

Worrying times ahead for IPC Swimming, but on the flip side an opportunity to get it right.

Given a change of staff that is.

Cheryl Claxton

Craig Lord, buoyed indeed to come across this editorial. I spoke personally with Craig Spence IPC Media Director, (wondering if he recalls?) following what I would best describe as the classification debaucle of the Olympic/Paralympic cycle involving an S8 female Australian swimmer at IPC World Championships. Craig Spence spoke at length of how the IPC ‘always knew (the swimmer) was borderline S8/S9’ but failed to explain both classification overrides from Berlin April 2015 and Glasgow 2015, both overruling the S9 bench testing. This classification in particular was riddled with errors, dropped to S8 on backstroke, no entries for breastroke, the huge anomolies in -ve S9 times swam in comparison to +ve S8 times. The enormity of her success in the S8 class in comparison to both S9 swims – 100 back and 200 IM.

The other huge concern for me was that GBs Craig Nicholson was Chief Classifier for the event. Given his experience and standing it was incrededous, and for me a defining moment, that he did not raise his hand and question the validity of the overruled S8 classification.

Personally, I don’t think the IPC were prepared for such a public outpouring of frustration that followed this swimmers reclassification during first swim. I am pleased, in a way, that it is still being discussed almost 12 months on.

The IPC got this one wrong and they cannot back track. It’s that simple. They need witnesses to come forward. Such is equity in sport.

Cheryl Claxton

Apologies for the double comment but there is a lot in this article. Felix Sanchez you are absolutely correct and I am sure that there are athletes Worldwide who too easily choose to take action to ensure that they fall on the correct side of the line when it comes to classification. A fuzzy line between cheating and honesty within a system that many consider does not produce fair and consistent results anyway. A two year suspension seems fair if caught. That is one problem. That problem should be the catalyst for developing better systems to support the sport as it grows in numbers and popularity. It won’t result in change however if the IPC choose to ignore the problem. The sport stays the same, the same problems exist and everyone loses out.

The other problem which may be bubbling to the surface here is far more alarming and that is one of presenting with a fabricated disability to compete in disabled sport. If indeed this is happening within para swimming then the line between cheating and honesty is crystal clear. This cannot be dismissed as attempting to get away with what you can. A two year suspension in cases such as these would be extremely inadequate punishment and would not act as a deterrent in the slightest. A lifetime ban from all sport is far more appropriate. And ofcourse what ever else is thrown at them within their communities.

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