An Open Letter Regarding Paratriathlon
June 26, 2012
This year the ITU and Triathlon Canada have made the inclusion of Paratriathletes a priority. As a result we are now seeing an increase in the number of physically challenged individuals wishing to participate in Triathlon Ontario sanctioned events.
At the higher levels execution is pretty straightforward. There are set categories based on physical disabilities, with corresponding equipment guidelines and rules for handlers. Athletes must be classified by the ITU prior to being allowed to compete. They are bound by the rules set out for their category. At the International and National level paratriathletes often have a completely separate race with a limited number of participants. The rules and guidelines are strictly enforced with no flexibility.
At the provincial level it's a little more complicated from an execution standpoint. Triathlon Ontario and its partners, the race directors, want to provide access whenever possible but this can be a difficult and complicated process. No one knows better than the race director, that every venue may not be able to accommodate every paratriathlon category. To further complicate the matter, we work with the general population, not experienced seasoned "pros" who are well versed in the higher level competition protocols and who follow them exactly. Most are not aware of any rules or limitations nor have they been classified by ITU.
There is very little information available to assist us at a provincial level. Any requests for advice have been met with a similar response. As related to an individual with an intellectual disability the ITU said "At this time ITU Paratriathlon Classification categories do not include athletes with intellectual disability. What can be considered by a third party, who is not running an ITU sanctioned paratriathlon event, is to organize an Open race where any athlete is accepted regardless of the impairment and type of bike used... "
At first blush this seems like a good idea; we're in the "inclusion" business and want as many to participate as possible. Where the problem arises is IF there is an accident and someone gets hurt. In such a case our insurer asks to see the rules we follow; the ITU rules. If the written rules are not enforced we could be considered in breach of the conditions associated with our policy and we may become liable. Because of the size of Ontario races (upwards of 500 - 1000 participants are not uncommon); course design (out and back on the same road) and the fact that most courses are open to cars and other vehicles, the risk of an accident at an Ontario age group event is much higher than it is elsewhere.
Over the past 3 weeks there have been three (3) cases of "challenged" individuals wishing to participate in Ontario Age Group races. Addressing each one of these cases has been very time consuming for all involved at a time when everyone is extremely busy. To the credit of the race director(s) and official(s) involved every effort was made to accommodate the athlete in question. Unfortunately that's not always possible.
Next week Triathlon Canada is hosting a Paratriathlon Summit in Edmonton. A number of Ontario's National and International level officials, a board member and Triathlon Ontario staff will be attending this Summit. All are hopeful that some National technical guidelines will be established to assist the provinces move the paratriathlon movement ahead at a local level. Unfortunately little that comes from this meeting will impact on the 2012 race season which is well underway.
With that in mind please consider the following:
1. Familiarize yourselves with the Paratriathlon categories and specific rules. They're complicated and quite detailed.
2. If you are a paratriathlete, or know of one planning to enter a particular event, please let the race director know as early as possible. Course adaptations take time and may require permit adjustments.
3. Provide as much information as you can regarding the disability and any accommodations that you hope can be made.
4. Understand that this is new to everyone, there are no experts at this point in time.
5. Outside advice is often required and the best source of information is not readily available.
6. If you have any suggestions please share them but be constructive.
7. Be patient. Workable solutions are often difficult to develop and require serious consideration based on the best information available at the time.
Currently there is some information posted on the Triathlon Ontario website in the "Members" section. More will be added as it is developed.
Everyone is agreed that the objective is to be as inclusive as is reasonably possible.