A Guide to Classifications

By Rhys Roberts - March 2 2008
A Guide to Classifications Those who have watched television coverage of disabled swimming at the Paralympics will understand how confusing the classsification system seems.

One of the most confusing and furiously debated aspects of disabled sport, and in particular, swimming, is the classification system, which defines what athletes compete in which disability category. To the neutral observer it may seem hard to understand why swimmers of certain disabilities are swimming against others whose disability takes another form. To be honest, this all seems hard to explain or understand to those who have been involved in the sport for any length of time!

One of the best sources of information to help those interested begin to understand in any great detail how the disability classifications work should visit: 


which has a comprehensive explanation of everything you need to know.

This following table gives a brief insight into the classification system:


The categories range from S1 up to S17. Swimmers who have been recognised as belonging in the S1 to S10 category have physical disabilities, with those who are S1 having the most sever physical impairment and those who are S10 having the least severity. Due to this scale of classification, at major Disabled Swimming events such as Paralympic Games, you should notice that the times that swimmers record should get faster as you move up the classifications, with swimmers in the S1 category recording the slowest times due to the amount of physical impairment they experience, and those with the least physical impairment in the S10 class should record the fastest times.

The S11 to S13 classes cater for those with visual impairments, with those in S11 having the most visual impairment and those in S13 the least.

Swimmers with Learning Difficulties will be given an S14 classification. Swimmers with hearing impairments will be categorised as S15. The S16 classification is for those who have had transplants.

The final classification, S17, is one that is used in Disability Sport Events (DSE) championships, and caters for those swimmers that have Dyspraxia.

For Freestyle, Backstroke and Butterfly races swimmers will be recognised with the category 'S' (e.g. S7.) However, there are slight changes when it comes to breaststroke and medley events. Breaststroke races carry the category 'SB' (e.g. SB7) while Medley races will be recognised with the category 'SM' (e.g. SM7). The reason for these seperate categories is that swimmers disabilities impact on how they are able to compete in these races and it is not unusual for a swimmer to be classed as an S7, while being recognised as being an SB6 etc...

Again, if you would like to find out more detailed explanations, please visit the link mentioned earlier on this page.