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Wheelchair basketball’s attendance at 2020 Paralympics Games in Tokyo uncertain

Erica Gavel, of Prince Albert, Sask., is just one many wheelchair basketball players in jeopardy of missing out on the 2020 Paralympics Games in Tokyo due to an ongoing dispute between the IWBF and the IPC.
Erica Gavel, of Prince Albert, Sask., is just one many wheelchair basketball players in jeopardy of missing out on the 2020 Paralympics Games in Tokyo due to an ongoing dispute between the IWBF and the IPC. Provided / Canadian Paralympic Committee

Wheelchair basketball athlete Erica Gavel says she would be “devastated” if she were not able to represent Canada at the 2020 Paralympics Games in Tokyo.

Team Canada qualified for the games in August and as right now, Gavel is on the team.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan basketball player shifts focus to 2020 Tokyo Paralympics

However, her participation is in jeopardy due to a dispute between the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF).

“To find out two and half months before the games I might not be able to go or wouldn’t be able to go is definitely devastating,” Gavel said.

IPC is questioning IWBF over their eligibility process — claiming they have failed to comply with the IPC Athlete Classification Code.

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In wheelchair basketball, players classify on a point system ranging from 1.0 to 4.5. The numbers represent the severity of the athlete’s disability with 1.0 being most severe.

The sum of points cannot exceed 14 for the five players on the court at one time.

IWFB is required to have teams reassess their 4.0 and 4.5 athlete’s eligibility under IPC’s code by May 29, 2020.

Gavel, of Prince Albert, Sask., deals with damaged cartilage in her leg known as an osteochondral defect.

“As a 4.5 and someone who has a minimal disability within wheelchair basketball, it does affect me and whatever comes out of it will have a significant impact on my life,” Gavel said.

“Within the last few days, it’s really hit home… just the impact that it could have on my career.”

READ MORE: ‘A cherry on top’: Moose Jaw, Sask. swimmer earns four medals at Parapan Am Games

Those found without an eligible impairment will be excluded from the games. If teams fail to make the required changes, wheelchair basketball could be removed from the competition altogether.

“Sadly, this is not a new issue and the IWBF has been on notice of this matter for several years and has been provided ample time and opportunity to address it,” IPC president Andrew Parsons said in a statement.

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“Throughout this period, we have been very clear to the IWBF that changes must be made in advance of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

“With less than seven months to go until the Games our disappointment with the IWBF’s reluctance to comply with the IPC Athlete Classification Code has reached breaking point, especially when the Eligible Impairments allowed to participate in Paralympic sport have been approved by the IPC General Assembly.”

IWBF debates otherwise.

In an email sent to Global News, the IWBF said they have been in talks with IPC on this matter for quite some time.

“We have been working with and cooperating with IPC for the past year and a half, to try and come to an agreement with the IPC Classification Committee, to ensure we don’t lose our own classification philosophy or compromise the integrity of the sport,” IWBF responded to Global News in an email.

READ MORE: Lethbridge hosts Alberta B Wheelchair Basketball Tournament

“Also, to ensure that it complies with that of the IPC Code, which clearly demonstrates our willingness to stay part of the Paralympic movement and the Paralympic Games.”

The IPC has already removed wheelchair basketball from the 2024 Paralympic Games due to this issue, but is willing to lift its exclusion if IWBF “becomes fully compliant with the IPC Athlete Classification Code by no later than the end of August 2021.”

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Gavel says Team Canada will continue its training to make sure everyone is prepared if IPC’s decision falls in their favour.

“As of right now we’re going to Tokyo until we hear otherwise. As a program, we’re really trying to stay positive and focus on our training,” Gavel said.

“We haven’t been kicked out yet so if we want to live in the present…we need to train for the Paralympics.”

Gavel was on the Canadian squad during the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where the team finished fifth.

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