Why Isn’t Climbing In the Paralympics?

If you were excited to watch Paraclimbing in the Olympics you will be disappointed—climbing's most inspiring athletes were left out.

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One of the most exciting aspects of the Tokyo Olympics earlier this month was watching the action and knowing that the Paralympics were set to kick off right on that event’s heels. Indeed, there was less than three weeks of intervening time scheduled between the two marquee sports spectacles, which meant that fandom could easily carry over with very little down time and the stoke could remain at an all-time high.

Competitors prepare for the wall at the IFSC Paraclimbing World Cup in Briacon, France, in July. Photo: Jan Virt/IFSC

Of course, for climbers, the Tokyo Olympics were all about one thing: climbing’s highly touted Olympic debut. So, coasting into the whirl of the Paralympics (which began on August 24, also in Tokyo), climbers were likely expecting something similar—a historic debut for Paraclimbing in the Paralympics. 

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case: Paraclimbing is not part of this year’s Paralympic Games. The reasons for that are complicated but can be distilled down to some key points. Although similar in name, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee are separate organizations—which means that they do not necessarily follow the same schedule or operate simultaneously in matters of a sport’s inclusion. The International Paralympic Committee’s website states about any sport’s potential addition to a Games: “The criteria are based on the principles of quality, quantity and universality. Quality refers to the competitive quality of events and disciplines offered on a sport’s quadrennial competition programme. Quantity refers to the number of nations widely practicing a sport at elite level. Universality refers to the number of regions a sport is widely practiced in.”

Photo: Jan Virt/IFSC

In layperson’s terms and applied to climbing, Paraclimbing does not quite have the breadth or global infrastructure for Paralympic inclusion—yet. But governing bodies, and USA Climbing in particular, have done a lot recently to actively push towards it. For example, USA Climbing hired a Paraclimbing Series Manager in 2019. That same year, the IFSC approved a Paraclimbing Development Plan with the express stated goals of acknowledging “the strength and importance of the Paracimbing community,” giving “credibility to the Paraclimbing movement,” and pushing towards more professionalization of Paraclimbing and Paralympic inclusion. Also that year, the Paraclimbing World Championships featured 158 competing athletes from 24 different countries, numbers that have likely expanded since then amid increased organization.   

The first international Paraclimbing competition was held  in 2006 in Ekaterinburg, Russia, with the first IFSC Paraclimbing World Championship in Arco, Italy, in 2011. Since then Paraclimbing has had regular events with the Paraclimbing World Championships held at the same time as the World Championship. Climbers typically participate in six categories for Neurological/Physical Disabilities, Visual Impairment, Upper Extremity Amputee, Lower Extremity Amputee, Seated, and Youth. Athletes compete in Lead, on toprope for safety. Visually impaired climbers have a sight guide on the ground. Leg amputees can choose to use a prosthetic, while arm amputees may not.

Paraclimbing is not in the list of sports for the 2024 Paralympics, but inclusion in the 2028 Paralympics—set to take place in Los Angeles—is a possibility. The website LA28.org states that the International Paralympic Committee will confirm the 2028 Paralympic sports by the year 2023.    

The IFSC has already held two Lead Paraclimbing World Cups this year (in Innsbruck in June and Briançon in July). The Paraclimbing World Championships will take place in Moscow in September, and the IFSC and USA Climbing are organizing a Paraclimbing World Cup at Sender One in Los Angeles this October. We’ll be covering a lot of the action here on Climbing.com, so check back often for information and updates as the big events draw near.

Photo: Jan Virt/IFSC

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