Professor Jan Burns has been appointed as chair of the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) Classification Compliance and Oversight Committee.

The Committee is responsible for developing and delivering the IPC Classification Code, increasing education and communication about classification, and guiding International Federations on classification for their own sports.

The Classification Code determines which athletes are eligible to compete in a sport and how athletes are grouped together for competition, and is one of the most debated areas within the Paralympic Movement.

In 2009 Professor Burns, an intellectual impairment specialist, was part of an international research team who developed a robust new classification system to allow athletes with intellectual impairments to compete once again in the Paralympics. It led to the re-inclusion of athletes with intellectual impairments to compete in athletics, swimming and table tennis at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

This research led Professor Burns to win the prestigious UK Research Councils Podium gold award for Exceptional Research Contribution in 2012, and in 2015, she was recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list, receiving an MBE for her work.

Professor Burns has continued her work enabling more athletes with intellectual impairments to compete at ensuing Paralympic games and additional events being added to the competition schedule. She is currently also a member of the Code Review Team drafting the next IPC Classification Code.

Professor Jan Burns MBE
Professor Jan Burns MBE

Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology and Academic Lead for the Centre for Sport, Physical Education and Activity Research (SPEAR), Professor Burns praised the former Classification Committee and its chair, Anne Hart, for helping to “create the foundations of what classification is and its importance to the Paralympic Movement” but also went on to explain how it was a “pivotal time for classification”, identifying three key areas that the Paralympic Movement needed to work on together.

“The first thing is Code compliance and implementation of the new Code, and developing a strategy that helps the International Federations implement the Code,” she said.

“The second key area is education. This needs to be done well for all members of the Paralympic Family. We must not lose the nuances of classification for whatever audience we are trying to address, but we must make it as a topic accessible and understandable.

“The final strategy is framing classification as something that is ever changing and evolving. We know from the last two decades that changes will happen to alter the landscape of classification: that could be new research, a medical advancement, or even a change to a sport. We must be flexible enough to ensure that advances can be accommodated within classification.”