Explained: Why discus thrower Vinod Kumar was denied a bronze at Tokyo Paralympics

Vinod Kumar was found to be ineligible for the men’s F52 discus medal as the classification panel was 'unable to allocate' him a 'sport class' after observation and re-assessment, a statement issued by the Games' technical delegates read.

Para-athlete Vinod Kumar, who had won the bronze medal in the discus throw event (F52 category) at the Tokyo Paralympics on Sunday, had his result declared void following a re-assessment by a classification panel.

Kumar, 41, produced a best throw of 19.91m to finish third behind Piotr Kosewicz (20.02m) of Poland and Velimir Sandor (19.98m) of Croatia.

Soon after the event, however, the results were put under review. On Monday, the organisers announced the ‘amendment’ of the result.

Kumar was found to be ineligible for the men’s F52 discus medal as the classification panel was ‘unable to allocate’ him a ‘sport class’ after observation and re-assessment, a statement issued by the Games’ technical delegates read. The decision meant Kumar did not win a medal. However, according to the World Para Athletics classification master list, he was already under review heading into the Para Games.

What is classification in Para sports?

The purpose, according to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), is to make sure the best athlete wins, based on criteria such as skill, fitness and tactics, instead of the athlete with the ‘lowest level of impairment.’ Athletes are classified according to the impact their impairment has on key sporting activities.

To ensure a fair and level playing field all athletes competing must be given a sport class and sport class status which is done by an international classification panel.

How are athletes classified?

Before their competition, the athletes undergo evaluation on-site by classifiers who are trained by every sport’s respective international federation and they decide on the classification status based on the sport and impairment type. The classification may not take place at every tournament.

What happens after the athletes are classified?

After the evaluation is over, the classification panel designates ‘sports class status’ to every athlete, which indicates if evaluations are required on the same athlete in the future. Future evaluations, according to the IPC, depend on the type of impairment.

What happened in Kumar’s case?

Kumar was evaluated on August 22 and cleared to compete in the F52 category at the time. According to the IPC, athletes who take part in the F52 category have ‘good shoulder muscles and mildly weak to full elbow and wrist muscles which are required for throwing an implement’. “Finger flexor and extensor muscles are non-functional making grip of the implement difficult. The non-throwing hand usually requires strapping to the throwing frame,” the IPC rule states.

If Kumar was cleared on August 22, why was he classified again after Sunday’s event?

According to the World Para Athletics database, Kumar’s classification status for the current year was already under review. Whether the athlete was aware of this, or if the Paralympics Committee of India (PCI) made him aware, is not clear. PCI president Deepa Malik could not be reached for a comment on this. However, she was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India: “Classifications done previously can be challenged during competitions and can be overruled also. There is nothing that India can do now.”

Why are athletes placed under review and re-evaluated?

As per the World Para Athletics classification rules, a classification panel can decide to conduct further evaluation sessions on an athlete ‘based on a number of factors.’ These, the rules state, include but are not limited ‘to situations, where the Athlete has only recently entered Competitions, sanctioned or recognised by World Para Athletics; has a fluctuating and/or progressive Impairment/Impairments that is/are permanent but not stable; and/or has not yet reached full muscular skeletal or sports maturity.’

Kumar is one of the 25 Indian para-athletes who have been placed under review by the World Para Athletics.

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