A realigning of standards on who can compete in Paralympic wheelchair basketball has forced Canadian veteran David Eng off the national team.
Canada’s flagbearer at the 2016 Summer Paralympics will not compete in Tokyo next year.
The 43-year-old from Montreal helped Canada win Paralympic gold in 2004 and 2012.
Under orders from the International Paralympic Committee, the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation is reassessing athletes for eligibility.
The issue is classification codes, which determine which athletes are eligible to compete in Paralympic sport and in what group of competitors to ensure a “level playing field.”
Wheelchair basketball players are classified from 1 to 4.5, with the main difference between classes trunk control and sitting balance.
The point sum of five players on the basketball court can’t exceed 14.
The IPC’s position is wheelchair basketball has for years operated under its own classifications, and allowed athletes to compete who don’t meet the Paralympic standard.
In order to force compliance, the IPC removed wheelchair basketball from the 2024 Paralympics in Paris.
The IPC also threatened to chop the marquee sport from the Tokyo Paralympics, now delayed until 2021 because of COVID-19 pandemic.
The IPC demanded all Tokyo-bound wheelchair basketball players in classification 4.0 or 4.5 – the highest mobility – have their eligibility reassessed.
Players found not to have an “eligible impairment” won’t be allowed to compete at the Paralympic Games.
The IWBF has begun that process. Eng is the only Canadian athlete affected so far.
“Making these decisions to potentially rule athletes ineligible – when they have been eligible up until this point – at the end of a quadrennial and so close to the Paralympic Games is truly unjust not only for the athletes directly affected but for their teammates as well,” Canadian Paralympic Committee athletes’ council chair Tony Walby said in a statement Thursday.
Three Canadian team athletes have been deemed eligible, but other athletes still have to be assessed, according to Wheelchair Basketball Canada.
“We would like to acknowledge the impact the decisions from today have on the career of longtime team member David Eng,” Canadian Paralympic Committee chief executive Karen O’Neill said in a statement.
“We are incredibly disappointed to see his outstanding career end this way.
“David is a Paralympic champion, Canadian team flag bearer, exceptional leader, and remarkable person who will always be part of our community.
“The positive effects of his decades-long contributions to his sport and the Paralympic Movement will stand eternally.
“We believe in the work to continually review classification, which is critical for the future of Paralympic sport. However, it must be done in an equitable manner with thoughts of the athletes at the forefront.”