The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee is responsible for supporting, entering and overseeing U.S. teams for the Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, Pan American and Parapan American Games.
National Olympic Committees – such as the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee in the United States – earn national quota spots to compete at each of these international, multi-sport events, which are then allocated to individual athletes and teams.
Athletes are selected to fill these quota spots and represent Team USA at the Games based on a set of criteria and standards specific to their sport. These standards are established by International Federations that govern each sport on a global level and administered by National Federations (called National Governing Bodies in the United States). Some NGBs utilize subjective selection procedures such as evaluation at competitions and team selection camps, while other team selections are results-based pending placement at trials competition and well-defined scoring systems..
The Paralympic classification system was created to organize competition among athletes with physical, intellectual and visual impairments. The system is based on scientific evidence and athlete evaluation. To ensure fair competition, an athlete’s type and degree of activity limitation determine his or her assignment to a specific “sport class."
Each sport class is intended to group athletes with similar functional limitations—so, for example, amputee athletes compete separately from blind athletes. The classification system provides a structure for competition—similar to grouping able-bodied athletes by age, gender or weight. The goal is to minimize the impact of impairments on sport performance and to ensure the success of an athlete is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus—the same factors that account for success in sport for able-bodied athletes.
Each sport has its own classification system because an impairment affects an athlete’s ability to perform differently across various sports. For example, an arm amputation will affect an archer differently than a swimmer. As a result, an athlete may meet the criteria to compete in one sport but not another. Not every sport is offered for athletes of every impairment type. For more information, visit Paralympic sports by physical impairment group.
Each Paralympic athlete undergoes a process to verify his or her eligibility to compete in the sport. To compete in the Paralympic Games, the athlete must undergo international classification, separate from their own nation’s classification system.
The evaluation process is conducted by a classification panel, which is composed of individuals authorized and certified by a sport federation to determine an athlete’s sport class. The process (typically) includes:
- Verification of the presence of an eligible impairment for that sport;
- Physical and technical assessments to examine the degree of activity limitation;
- Allocation of sport class(es); and
- Observation in competition.
When undergoing athlete evaluation, an athlete is only classified for the respective sport. This is because classification systems differ by sport and are overseen by the International Federation governing each sport.
If an athlete is not eligible to compete in a sport, this result does not call into question whether an impairment is genuine. It means that:
The athlete does not have a primary impairment that makes him or her eligible to compete in that sport, or
The impairment is not severe enough to significantly limit the athlete’s ability to fully participate in that sport.
Due to the progressive nature of some impairments (such as multiple sclerosis) and the impact on certain activities, athletes sometimes undergo classification evaluation several times throughout their career.
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee operates two national U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Centers in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Lake Placid, New York. Athletes – competing in both Olympic and Paralympic sports – are selected to train at the OPTCs by their National Governing Body.
To facilitate this selection process, each NGB annually submits a high-performance plan to the USOPC, which forecasts year-by-year plans for athlete training for the remainder of the four-year quad cycle (i.e. the four-year period between a summer to summer Olympic Games such as 2017-2020). Based on this plan, NGBs work with the USOPC to determine the number of OPTC spots that will be allocated to athletes in a specific sport.
Priority allocations and training spots are awarded to athletes based on their potential to compete for medals at international multi-sport events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games. An invitation to train at the OPTC does not guarantee an athlete the right to compete at the Olympic or Paralympic Games.
The USOPC athlete ombudsman is available to offer athletes confidential advice regarding participation in elite sport – including team selection and the opportunity to participate in protected competition(s) – and to help athletes resolve disputes in connection with qualification and selection procedures. The athlete ombudsman can help athletes understand the rules and their rights regarding team selection, specifically assisting with questions related to the following key areas:
- Selection procedures, standards and requirements (i.e. athlete involvement, development, objective criteria, discretionary selection, interpretation, implementation, etc.)
- NGB complaints and “Section 9 complaints” under USOPC bylaws
- Dispute resolution and AAA arbitrations
- Legal representation and costs
- Affected athletes
- Past AAA decisions and precedent
For more information on an athlete’s right to participate in protected competition, click here, or to seek free, independent and confidential advice regarding team selection, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.