Athletes Perspectives of The Classification System in Alpine Skiing for Those with A Visual Impairment

Sara Douglas, P J Kitchin, Jonathan Jackson, Brendan Barrett, Julie-Anne Little

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


1.Aim and Research Questions
At the core of disability sport is the need to provide a platform for those with a disability to compete with other athletes in a fair way. Given the diversity of impairment, classifying athletes into similar groupings aims to reduce the impact of an individual’s impairment on the sporting outcome. Classification is a management system deployed in disability sport to enable this to occur. When the system works as intended, athletes compete with those with a similar level of impairment which ensures the best athlete will be victorious rather than events being won by the least impaired athlete in any given class of competition.
This study will focus on Alpine skiing - a high-intensity sport, often performed under conditions of glare. Despite the increasing popularity of disability sport, few authors have consulted the perceptions and experiences of athletes in classification. A significant knowledge gap exists regarding the athletes’ opinions of the current classification system in visually impaired (VI) sport. To begin to bridge this gap, our purpose was to explore the athlete’s view of the classification in alpine VI skiing. Our aims explored (i) the skier’s understanding and involvement in the management of classification, (ii) the skier’s experience and perceptions of the system, and (iii) the suitability of the classification criteria and management system.

2.Background and Literature Review
For those with VI, the classification system exists to determine the type and level of impairment and attempts to categorise athletes to compete together on level terms. However, this is fraught with challenges, due to the differing nature of sports and aetiologies of visual impairment. In 2011, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) published guidelines for the development of the classification system and identified issues with classifications current structure, stating evidence-based research was required for the classification system to become sports-specific (Tweedy & Vanlandewijck, 2011). The criterion for classifying athletes is based on the historical medical definitions of VI and doesn’t yet consider the impact of impairment on performance. These guidelines primarily discussed how classification in the physical category could evolve, with only limited guidance for VI sport. VI sport classification was not further addressed until a Delphi study in 2016, which helped to develop the joint guidance issued by the International Blind Sport Federation (IBSA) and IPC in 2018. However, no substantive VI-specific changes have yet been implemented in the Paralympic system (Ravensbergen et al., 2016; Mann & Ravensbergen, 2018).

Although the current VI classification system is designed to allow athletes to partake in sport, there are concerns with those who hold power over the system. Howe (2008) described the ‘exclusionary phenomenon” of the Paralympic Games due to a limited range of impairments being visible in media promotion of the competition suggesting the IPC’s aim of an inclusive system is currently not being fulfilled (Howe 2008), and focus remains on the mainstream commercialisation of the sporting events. The structure of classification should be centred on the athletes and prioritising the athlete voice is crucial to the success of the system (Powis & Macbeth 2020).

3.Research Design, Methodology and Data Analysis
This study consisted of semi-structured interviews. Using Microsoft Teams audio-visual platform, N=11 interviews have been conducted with elite paralympic alpine skiers with a visual impairment from nine different nationalities. N=10 interviews conducted in English, N=1 in German. In-depth, qualitative analysis of interview transcripts was undertaken using Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six phases of thematic analysis.

4.Results/Findings and Discussion
Three key themes were identified; the first of these was (i) Suitability. The skiers questioned the suitability of the current visual measurements, the testing environment, and the information they received regarding the classification process. The second was (ii) Exclusion. Skiers felt certain aspects of the system remain exclusive due to the restrictions of sport classes and the absence of the athlete voice. The third was (iii) Mistrust. The skiers felt mistrust; in those implementing the system; in other athletes due to intentional misrepresentation (IM). Speculation surrounding this resulted in the skiers doubting themselves. Results showed that while there was not a “one size fits all” approach to classification, understanding the skier’s experiences can be a vital first step in the changes needed in this sports classification system. Improved communication with the classifier, and education of the athlete should be prioritised during the testing process to help address the concerns presented by the skiers.

5.Conclusion, Contribution, and Implication
Drawing from the lived experience, this study provides valuable insights into the experiences and perceptions of alpine skiers and will help to guide future research into the evolution of this sport’s classification for VI athletes. In addition to the need for further evidence-based studies, the athlete’s voice should be considered in the development of the classification system in alpine skiing.
Original languageEnglish
Subtitle of host publication31st European Association for Sport Management Conference
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished online - 1 Oct 2023
EventEuropean Association for Sport Management Conference: Forward Thinking in Sport Management:
Inclusivity, Accessibility, and Sustainability - Europa Hotel, Belfast
Duration: 12 Sept 202315 Oct 2023
Conference number: 31


ConferenceEuropean Association for Sport Management Conference
Abbreviated titleEASM23
Internet address


  • sport management
  • vision science
  • Classification


Dive into the research topics of 'Athletes Perspectives of The Classification System in Alpine Skiing for Those with A Visual Impairment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this