TORONTO – Critics are continuing to condemn the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to exclude swimmer Victoria Arlen just days before the Paralympic World Swimming Championships in Montreal this week.
The 18-year-old was barred from the games because her disability isn’t considered permanent.
According to the BBC, the International Paralympic Committee (IOC) released the following statement earlier this week regarding their decision:
“The medical report has been reviewed by five independent medical experts. All are in agreement that the report, its assessment and its diagnosis fail to provide sufficient evidence of an eligible impairment leading to permanent or verifiable activity limitation – which is required under the IPC Swimming Classification rules and regulations.
“Therefore the athlete has been found non-eligible to compete in IPC swimming competitions.”
Arlen has spent the last seven years in a wheelchair after she was paralyzed from the waist down following an illness that left her in a vegetative state for two years.
Arlen was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, a neurological disorder that occurs when an inflammatory attack occurs at some location in a person’s central nervous system, like the spinal cord. According to the Transverse Myelitis Association when the central nervous system is affected, multiple kinds of damages can occur. This can include weakness in the legs and can result in the difficulty or inability to walk.
At 16 years old, Arlen resumed competitive swimming. At last year’s Paralympics in London, she set a world record and won a gold medal in the 100-metre freestyle and silver medals in three other races.
On Sunday, Arlen released a statement on her official Facebook page. The teen said she was “heartbroken with what has happened” and that she feels “numb and completely shocked with the turn of the events.”
She wrote: “To have trained so hard this past year and come so far only to be humiliated and targeted by the IPC for reasons unknown baffles me. Being penalized for maybe having a glimmer of hope of one day being able to walk again is beyond sad.”
Seacoastonline.com called the move a “terrible decision” while New Hampshire politician Kelly Ayotte called the classification process of Arlen “reprehensible.”
“Not only does this decision impact Victoria, but it also affects the sport of swimming,” wrote Ayotte in a letter to the IPC. (Read the full letter below).
Among the political critics, New Hampshire’s governor Maggie Hassan voiced her disappointment and called the exclusion “unconscionable and patently unfair.”
On Facebook, dozens of fans continue to leave their messages of support.
One wrote: “There is one word to describe what the IPC has done…Appalling! It’s a disgrace. To consider you not disabled enough? What’s enough?” while another called Arlen “a champion and a hero to all of us.”
The U.S. National Institute of Health’s website says that about one-third of patients diagnosed with Transvere Myelitis encounter a “good” or “full” recovery from their symptoms. Some regain their ability to walk normally; others face a fair recovery, which means they still deal with problems with moving their limbs or sensory issues. Another third of patients show no recovery at all – the NIH website says this group is wheelchair-bound or can’t take on daily functions independently.
The institute says, however, that it’s difficult to predict the outcomes of patients with Transvere Myelitis, though. The Mayo Clinic suggests that most people with the disease experience at least partial recovery.