OTTAWA — The Canadian women's wheelchair basketball team is relieved no players will be lost to a realigning of eligibility standards. The men's team was not so lucky.
Under orders from the International Paralympic Committee, the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation is reassessing athletes with high mobility for eligibility to compete in next year's Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
David Eng, a two-time gold medallist and Canada's flag-bearer at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, was ruled ineligible in June in a blow to the men's squad.
But five women on the national team have been ruled eligible for Tokyo, Wheelchair Basketball Canada announced Tuesday.
"We cannot ignore the immense toll this situation has taken on the athletes and the integrity of the game," WBC executive director Wendy Gittens said in the statement. "WBC is extremely frustrated with how this process has been handled by the IWBF and the IPC.
"It has been thoroughly unfair to the athletes and the negative impact it has caused cannot be understated. The athletes have not had a voice in these life-altering decisions and the timing has caused much uncertainty and undue stress four years into the Paralympic cycle."
Wheelchair basketball players are classified from 1 to 4.5, with trunk control and sitting balance the main difference between classes.
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 made the dramatic move in January to remove wheelchair basketball from the 2024 Paralympics in Paris.
The IPC also threatened at that time to chop the marquee sport from the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, now postponed until next year because of COVID-19 pandemic.
The IPC demanded all Tokyo-bound wheelchair basketball players in classifications 4.0 or 4.5 — the highest mobility — get reassessed.
Three players on the men's team aside from Eng are classified as 4.5. When Eng lost his spot on the team in June, the WBC said then three players were cleared to compete in Tokyo.
WBC said Tuesday no other Canadians must undergo reassessment.
Five players on the women's squad have a 4.5 classification.
Toronto's Erica Gavel confirmed on her Twitter account she was among those awaiting a decision.
"It's been a very, very long and tiring process," Gavel wrote in her post. "However, it is with great excitement that I am happy to announce that I meet the criteria put forth by the International Paralympic Committee . . . No words can express how happy I am - the greatest of honours."
Canadian men's teams have claimed three Paralympic gold and one silver in the last two decades. The women were Paralympic champions in 1992, 1996 and 2000.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2020.
The Canadian Press