Society member is featured in Nature

Professor Jan Burns from Canterbury Christ Church University is head of eligibility at INAS (the International Federation for sport for para-athletes with an intellectual disability). She is one of four scientists featured in an article on the role of science at the London 2012 Olympic Games published in the prestigious journal Nature.

As the journal explains, in 2000 the Spanish basketball team in the Paralympics learning-difficulties category swept the board to win all of their games and take gold. There was just one problem: many of the team were not intellectually disabled.

After the scandal was revealed by an undercover journalist, the team was stripped of its medals, and there were no events for athletes with a learning disability at the next two Paralympic Games.

This year in London they have returned - in athletics, swimming and table tennis. And Professor Burns is one of the key scientists responsible for ensuring that the athletes qualify for competition.

Nature says:

“Burns is currently working a hectic schedule juggling her Paralympics work, her regular academic job and huge interest from the world's media. ‘I'm currently going through and checking everybody's file, making sure we know enough about everybody who's come through the system,’ she says. During the Paralympics, which run from 29 August to 9 September, ‘I'll be around ensuring that the classification goes well and to be on hand if we do have any issues’.”

The journals also suggests that:

“The early betting is that the Rio Paralympics will include rowing and will give a second chance to the game that started the story: basketball.”

Professor Burns has received a public engagement grant from the Society to enable her to develop web-based and physical resources that explain why people with learning disabilities have been included in the Paralympics and how the systems of general eligibility and sport-specific classification work for this group.