If this is the first time you’ve heard about classification, or you’re interested in understanding more about it read on. We share a bit of the history of Para Sport as well as the current set up within rowing both at an international and national level.
Rowing is a very flexible sport that can be adapted to cater for a wide range of impairments. 'Adaptive Rowing' is the umbrella term that British Rowing uses when talking about all forms of rowing activity for disabled people.
Those interested in taking part in adaptive rowing, either indoor or on-water, but not keen to compete, don't need to be classified. It's a necessary requirement, though for Para athletes who want to compete, either at local regattas, indoor rowing events or on the international stage.
History of classification and adaptive/Para sport
In the 1940s, Dr Ludwig Guttmann founded Paralympic Sport as an extension of the rehabilitation process. During the early years of the Paralympic Movement, classification was medically based. The organisational structure of medically-based classification systems reflected the structure of a rehabilitation hospital, with separate classes for people with spinal cord injuries, amputations, and those with other neurological or orthopaedic conditions.
Athletes received a class based on their medical diagnosis and competed in that class for all sports offered. For example, an athlete with a complete spinal cord injury that resulted in lower limb paralysis but normal arm and trunk power would compete in a separate wheelchair race from a double above-knee amputee because their medical diagnosis was different. The fact that the impairments resulting from their medical conditions caused about the same activity limitation in wheelchair propulsion was not considered in the classification process.
As the Paralympic Movement matured, sport was no longer seen as an extension of rehabilitation and became important in its own right. This focus on sport itself drove the development of what commonly became referred to as functional classification systems. In functional systems, the main factors that determine a class are how much an impairment impacts sports performance.
Currently, most Paralympic sports use functional systems of classification, a notable exception being the classification system used for individuals with a visual impairment, which remains medically based.
In contrast to the medical classification approach in which athletes competed in the same class for all sports, functional systems of classification need to be sports specific. This is because any given impairment may have a significant impact in one sport and a relatively minor impact in another.
The current structure within rowing
Para-Rowing classification (Internationally recognised classes)
Each Paralympic sport has designed its own functional classification system to determine which athletes are eligible to compete in it and how athletes are grouped together for competition. Many sports have identified multiple different classes, for example, there are nine in athletics and 15 in swimming. Rowing has three classes into which athletes can be placed:
Rowers will demonstrate rowing-specific impairment affecting both the trunk swing and leg drive. PR1 rowers demonstrate significant limitations in the ability to use the sliding seat to propel the boat and therefore use a fixed seat to compete in Para-Rowing. Additionally, PR1 rowers demonstrate significant impairment in the ability to generate force through trunk swing rotating about the hips.
Rowers demonstrate rowing-specific impairment primarily affecting the leg drive. PR2 rowers demonstrate significant limitations in the ability to use the sliding seat to propel the boat and therefore, use a fixed seat to compete in competition.
Rowers with an eligible impairment, who have functional use of their legs, trunk and arms for rowing, and who can use the sliding seat may be assigned to the PR3 class after being evaluated by a British Rowing Classification Panel. This may include rowers with a visual impairment.
A classified Para-Rower can race in the corresponding Adaptive Rower Sport Class.
Adaptive Rowing classification (Nationally recognised classes)
Athletes whose impairment does not fall into the eligibility criteria for Para-Rowing may be eligible for an adaptive rowing classification if they meet a minimal disability level through a loss of points. British Rowing’s objective for adaptive rowing is inclusion; to provide the opportunity for rowers with a disability to compete at British Rowing events. British Rowing is responsible for the classification of adaptive rowers who wish to compete in rowing at national level. Again there are three sport classes available to athletes:
Athletes row with their shoulders and arms only due to minimal or no trunk function. They use strapping around their trunk with optional leg straps for stability in the boat.
Athletes have trunk and arm movement but are unable to use their legs to propel the sliding seat. They use a fixed seat with optional leg and lap straps to provide support and stability in the boat.
Athletes have leg, trunk and arm movement and can utilise the sliding seat. There are two sub-classifications with AR3 for those with a physical or visual impairment (Physical Impairment or PI) that meets the minimum impairment criteria, and for those with chronic health conditions (Learning Impairment or LI) not resulting in a physical impairment. Such athletes must complete a self declaration form that is submitted for approval ahead of the event.
An Adaptive Rower cannot race in a British Rowing classified Para-Rower sport class including international competitions.
Indoor Adaptive Rowing classification (Nationally recognised classes)
In May 2021 British Rowing announced an update to its indoor adaptive rowing classifications. The new and improved approach is opening indoor rowing competitions and events up to even more adaptive rowers, ‘levelling the playing field’ as well as enabling more engaging racing. For indoor Adaptive Rowing there are six sports classes available to athletes:
Rowers have limitations in one or both arms and are unable to use their legs to propel a sliding seat. There is optional strapping for their chest, trunk and legs to provide support and stability on the rowing machine.
Rowers row with their shoulders and arms only due to minimal or no trunk function. They use strapping around their trunk with optional leg straps for stability on the rowing machine.
Rowers have upper limb impairments and/or one leg/one arm on the same side impairment. They use a sliding seat and can row with a single hand grip or a D-handle as required.
Rowers have trunk and arm movement but are unable to use their legs to propel a sliding seat. They use a fixed seat with optional leg and lap straps to provide support and stability on the rowing machine.
Rowers have leg, trunk and arm movement and can use a sliding seat. They will have a physical or visual impairment that meet the minimum impairment criteria.
This is an open category for those with chronic health conditions not resulting in a physical impairment. They must complete a self-declaration form that is submitted for approval ahead of the event.
More information about all the different classifications can be found here.
The classification process
The classification process places rowers in groupings with other rowers of similar levels of functional ability to provide competition that is as fair as possible. British Rowing recognises and accepts that the respective classifications encompass a range of disabilities and that there will be rowers with disabilities that may be greater than the minimum and who may therefore be at a disadvantage competing in their respective sport class.