24 August 2020
By Ria Chia
Dr Lim Mui Hong graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and completed his postgraduate specialisation as an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist.
This past month, Dr Lim was nominated alongside fellow classifier, Mr Mohammed Faisal Suptu, for the Community Impact (Volunteering) Award at the Singapore Disability Sports Awards presented by Haw Par Corporation.
Faisal is an associate lecturer at Republic Polytechnic with a background in Sports & Exercise Psychology. He enjoys running and has been playing sports from a young age. As a young athlete, Faisal’s pet event was the 200m event, and he was part of his school’s relay team before he made the switch to tackle longer distances. Faisal was first exposed to technical classification when he played the role of Liaison Officer at the ASEAN Para Games 2015. It piqued his interest, and he attended a course for technical classification in 2017 and obtained his certification thereafter.
We spoke with the pair to find out what they do to help Singapore’s para-athletes, and more. [This conversation has been edited and condensed.]
Can you share with us how you started out as a volunteer for the Singapore Disability Sports Council?
Dr Lim: I was first introduced to para-sports about six years ago. At that time, it was the infancy of medical classification and I was approached to provide classification support for para sports. We realised then that there was a limited number of classifiers in Singapore. Subsequently, things just moved along gradually. About two years ago, I attended a para classifier course organised by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and they were offering courses for different sports. I attended the athletics classification course together with Faisal.
Faisal: There was an email going around, asking if anyone was interested to be a classifier and a technical official for para sports. I was interested, and I responded to the email. It took about a year for my application to go through. Perhaps there weren’t any available courses available in that year.
I was also involved in the ASEAN Para Games 2015 and was a liaison officer to one of the teams, and I actually accompanied a few athletes for the classification process. That was my first exposure to how the classification was done. That’s where I could also learn and be of use to the para athletics scene as a classifier.
What is a medical classification?
Dr Lim: Medical classification is a process where we group individuals, various athletes into various classes. This way, they can compete in a more even playing field in view of the limitations that they may have due to their medical conditions. It’s quite similar to the military where you group different enlistees into different physical categories so that they can do their tasks properly. The basic classification has two levels: local and international levels. For local, it’s done by the local classifiers. If the athletes prove to be promising and progress to an international level, they will be reviewed and reclassified again.
Faisal: Before an athlete can compete in an event, he or she needs to be classified. In any classification for para athletics, you need a medical practitioner and a technical classifier. The technical classifier also needs to have a background in sports science. So both of us (Mr Lim and Faisal) need to be present for the medical assessment first – looking at the medical documents and how the impairment came about; whether the athlete was born with it or acquired the impairment. My role would be to assist the doctor in handling the athlete. Sometimes you need to move the athlete to the examination bed or help assist the athlete performing a test. When there are some tests that are very skills-based, that is where I will come in. But this is only after a tentative sports class has been given to the athlete after the medical assessments. In one of the events, either in the heats or finals, the technical classifier needs to observe how the athlete performs the skill, before confirming whether the sports class that was assigned to the athlete was accurate, or needed to be adjusted; higher or lower. The medical assessment is based on the condition as is, for example, muscle strength, power etc. However, during the competition, the athlete can actually perform better than the assigned class.
What does a classification entail?
Dr Lim: Medical classifications consist of two parts: the medical classification as well as the technical classification. So in every classification process, you need two classifiers to be around. The medical classifier is usually a medically-trained individual, either a doctor, therapist or someone with medical knowledge. The technical classifier is usually a coach who is familiar with the technicality of the sport itself. Unlike the able-bodied athletes, we look at the para-athlete and the way they perform their tasks in order to group them into their various classifications. That’s how medical classification works.
Why is classification important?
Dr Lim: Our point is to classify them properly in Singapore so they can compete in the class they should be competing in. We want to avoid any major class discrepancy when they are overseas. Because in the worst case that they are found ineligible to compete, it will turn into a wasted trip for the para-athletes. Likewise, if their class changes to a higher one in the international meet, they may be disadvantaged, because they will be competing with athletes of a high ability compared to them. Our aim is to slot them into the appropriate classification so that they can train and compete with others on the same level.
Are you able to class for all disability groups?
Dr Lim: Different sports have different classifications. Swimming will have their classification system; boccia will have their classification system, archery will have their own. If you want to perform classification for different sports, you’ll have to be certified for the respective sport again. That’s the limitation because you realise for every sport you have to train a certain number of people.
What motivated you to stay involved in the para-sports scene ever since you started six years ago?
Dr Lim: I think it’s just a way of giving back to the community. First of all, I’m able to contribute and at the same time, I do have the necessary knowledge to help. I think there’s definitely a lack of classifiers in Singapore, and I think we’re trying to move everybody towards a more active lifestyle. That will help to advance the progress of our para-athletes.
Faisal: I don’t really associate volunteering much with personal satisfaction. It is something that I feel I have to do. Pertaining to my role as a sports classifier, if there is no one to take on this role, the athlete cannot be classified and will not be able to move on to whatever they want to do in the sport. I wanted to try out to be a classifier, and I got it, so I carry out my responsibility as a classifier.
How do you think more able-bodied individuals can help to contribute to para-sports?
Dr Lim: There are a few ways that we can consider. One is volunteering their service doing event organisation, raising the awareness of the sports. Training-wise may be a bit difficult because they do have very specific requirements [to provide] more specialised coaching support for the para-athletes. Coaching support is also important so other than event organisation, those who are quite involved in sports can also contribute by coaching the athletes.
Faisal: There are quite a number of areas. Based on my observation, support for logistics, organisation of events. Sometimes there is quite a large disparity in the quality of events delivered for able-bodied athletes versus para-athletes. You tend to see many more volunteers coming in for able-bodied events. To get volunteers to come in to help para-athletes or special needs students, you still don’t see as many coming forward. This could be one area that able-bodied individuals can come in to assist.
How does it feel, for Mr Faisal and yourself to be nominated for the awards?
Dr Lim: I was quite surprised, I wasn’t aware of this award, to begin with. We are very appreciative of the gesture and the nomination, and to us, that’s more than enough. Everyone who has been involved, nominated or not, has contributed to the development of para-sports in Singapore.