Irish team furious at Malone decision


2008 PARALYMPIC GAMES:THE IRISH Paralympic team was in uproar yesterday after long-time Paralympian Derek Malone was deemed "not disabled enough" to compete in the seven-a-side football tournament, even though he took bronze in Athens in the 800 metres (T38 category).

The Paralympic Council of Ireland (PCI) have complained about the way the decision was reached and want clarification from the authorities on how the classification team issued the ban.

"This has left a very bitter taste in my mouth," said Malone, who has a mild form of cerebral palsy, in an interview at the Paralympic media centre. "It's shaken all the principles I've held in sport and I need to have a serious think about whether I can recover from this blow."

Seven-a-side soccer at the Paralympics is played only by athletes with cerebral palsy, who are assessed and classified by officials of the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CP-ISRA) according to the extent of their impairment.

Cerebral Palsy is an impairment resulting from injury to the developing brain, which results in altered neuromuscular function and can respond to focused, planned athletic conditioning and training.

Malone was around two years old when he was diagnosed as suffering from cerebral palsy, after he had a haemorrhage at six days old.

The 28-year-old said keeping up training was important to help him manage the symptoms of his condition.

"The nature of cerebral palsy is that if you do not keep up training, then it can go backwards," said Malone.

According to PCI general secretary Liam Harbison, Malone was a victim of his success because, in training so hard, he made himself ineligible.

"That is at odds with the very ethos of high-performance sport, which is an issue of concern to all constituents of CP football. We feel he has become a victim of a flawed rule book," Harbison said.

The decision to stop Malone playing in the seven-a-side tournament did not come as a bolt out of the blue to the Irish team.

Following a long and distinguished career as a runner with the Irish team, Malone joined the football team in November last year after injury forced him to give up running competitively.

The first classification took place at an event in Canada in May this year, when Malone was deemed ineligible, but in the absence of a second classification team to verify the results he was told he could go to Beijing but would have to undergo another classification at the Paralympics.

The classification review took place during the Ireland v Iran pool game in the football tournament earlier this week, which Ireland lost 4-2.

"I knew that there might be issues when I came over to Beijing, but when I saw the other athletes I thought I'd be okay," said Malone.

"At the heart of this issue is the fact that, with this ruling, CP-ISRA are throwing the whole essence of cerebral palsy football as elite sport into question," said Harbison.

At issue is the "impact on sport" rule, which says that while an athlete may appear to have near normal function when running, he or she must show signs of "an obvious impairment that has impact on the sport of football".

The Irish team find this phrasing vague and want a clear definition of the impact of cerebral palsy on sport.

"As far as can be ascertained the only criteria in relation to the 'impact on sport' ruling is 'in the opinion of the classification team'," said Harbison.

Coach Paul Cassin said that in 30 minutes of football, Malone had 12 misplaced passes and not scored a goal.

"If that's not an impact on the sport, then we're in real trouble," Cassin quipped.

Ukraine, Brazil and the Netherlands have signed a letter with the Irish team expressing their concerns about the process and calling for more transparency in how it was reached.

Malone was medically assessed by a consultant neurologist, who has confirmed the presence of signs of major and minor criteria as per the CP-ISRA classification manual.

CP-ISRA president Alan Dickson, who met delegates from the countries concerned late last night, said he would respond formally to the Irish position today.

He pointed out that the current classification system has been recognised and in place for some time.

Malone said it was crazy to suggest his disability doesn't affect his sport.

"My whole sporting career has been a battle to beat the symptoms. If a player has cerebral palsy, I don't care how normal he is, he can't compete on a level playing fields.

"You can see my CP on the pitch, how I get tired and how I get injured," said Malone.

"I would hate to see another kid with CP being victimised by a crude process like I feel I have been," said Malone, who has not been sent home despite his disqualification from the team and will remain an accredited member of the delegation until the end of the games.


Yesterday's results

Ellen Keane (Swimming, 200m IM heats, SM9): 6th in heat, 10th overall. Irish record: 2.47.35.

Stephen Campbell (Swimming, 400m freestyle heats, S11): 6th in heat, 11th overall. Irish record: 5.28.43.

Seán Heary (Archery, Compound Open, last 16): Beat SK Go (Kor) 113-112

Patrice Dockery (Athletics, 100m, T53, first round): 4th in heat, 10th overall, 18.90sec.

Boccia Team (BC1/BC2, quarter-final): Lost to China 12-2.

Amy Kelehan, John Twomey (Sailing, Scud18, races 6, 7, 8): 10th in race six, 10th overall. Races 7, 8 postponed.

Paul McCarthy, Paul Ryan, Richard Whealey (Sailing, Sonar, races 6, 7, 8): 5th in race six, 11th overall. Races 7, 8 postponed.

John McCarthy (Athletics, Discus Final, F32/51): Best of 9.48 metres, 9th overall.

Day 6:Stephen Campbell goes in the heats of the 100m freestyle (and final if qualified). Hannah Clarke swims the heats of the 100m breaststroke (and final if qualified).

Enda Smyth; Cathal Miller; Catherine Walsh and Joanna Hickey, and Michael Delaney and David Peelo ride in the individual road time trials.

Boccia Team fight for bronze medal. Kelehan, Twomey sail races 7, 8, 9 of Scud18. McCarthy, Ryan, Whealey sail Sonar races 7, 8, 9.

Seán Heary competes in quarter-finals of Archery Compound Open.

7-a-side football team take on Britain.