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June 1, 2004

Grant amount: £3,100,000

The Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport (Loughborough University)

  • Grant programme: Trustees' Discretion
  • Region: East Midlands

Funding for the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport - a 20 year partnership between Loughborough University and PHF.

About the organisation

Loughborough University, a UK top 10 University with an unbeatable student experience and excellence in teaching, research and sport. We are ‘No. 1’ globally for sports-related subjects by the QS higher education league table for eight consecutive years.

Organisation’s objectives

To improve knowledge about Paralympic sport and to promote the substantial health and quality of life benefits that can be gained through participation in disability sports.


The Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport

Our work is far and wide reaching from rehabilitation, to community sports and to high performance sports.

Videos of our work can be found on the PHC website

Below is one example of the impact of the partnership between PHF and Loughborough University.

Impact of PHF’s support

Creating a level playing field: Establishing the classification system for Para canoe

A common question asked by spectators of Para sports is how athletes with such different physical attributes can compete together.

The answer is the Paralympic classification system which establishes whether individuals are eligible to compete and groups athletes with varying impairments into classes based on their impairments’ impact on performance.

Ensuring athletes are classified correctly creates a level playing field and safeguards the integrity of competition.

In addition to its research around Para athlete health and wellbeing, wheelchair sports and innovative technologies, the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport leads work to establish sport-specific and evidenced-based classification frameworks across a number of sports, including Para canoe.

What is Para canoe?

Para canoe is specifically for Para canoeists with trunk and leg impairments. It comprises two events – Para kayak and Para Va’a.

Both are contested over 200 metres in either a kayak thrust forward with a double-bladed paddle or a Polynesian canoe (or Va’a) with a supporting pontoon propelled using a single-blade paddle.

Establishing the classification system for Para canoe

“The new classification is a major and significant achievement. Without this collaborative research, involving the PHC, it would not have been possible.” John Edwards, Chair – International Canoe Federation

In collaboration with the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIH) and the International Canoe Federation (ICF), the PHC established the classification systems for Para canoe.

Working with ParalympicsGB canoeists and international classifiers, the researchers studied the differences in paddling power output between Para canoe athletes and non-disabled athletes as well as between athletes with different impairments.

They also demonstrated the system’s robustness – measuring the extent to which classifiers consistently categorise athletes with similar impairments. The system was proved to be reliable and credible.

The outcomes of this research were used to create and underpin the classification system approved by the International Paralympic Committee in 2017.

It was successfully implemented at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games – introducing Para Va’a. At the 2024 Paris Games, the number of Para canoe disciplines will rise to 10.

How is the classification system implemented?

Para canoeists complete a physical test, technical test and in-competition observation managed by ICF trained classifiers including a doctor or physiotherapist and a technical classifier, usually a coach.

They are then allocated to one of three classifications:

  • KL1-VL1 – athletes propel the boat with their arms only, having no or limited trunk function and no leg function
  • KL2-VL2 – athletes propel the boat with their arms and trunk, having partial trunk and leg function
  • KL3-VL3 – athletes have full function of their arms and trunk, and partial leg function

Benefits of the system

“Canoe clubs across the country are now introducing athletes to both the kayak and Va’a. This has opened the sport up to a different range of disabilities.” Emma Wiggs MBE, Paralympic canoeist and gold medal winner

The classification system and use of two types of boat has made the sport more accessible and increasingly popular.

As a result, UK Sport has enhanced its funding to Para canoeing. The investment has paid dividends. ParalympicsGB’s canoeists were triumphant at Tokyo 2020 – achieving three gold, one silver and three bronze medals.

Their success has raised the profile of the sport. Its popularity among participants and spectators from grassroots to elite is growing rapidly.

How does your organisation exemplify PHF’s values?

Students who study at Loughborough University (School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences) benefit from the fantastic Peter Harrison Laboratory. This is a bespoke laboratory that specialises in Para sport and is equipped with an oversized treadmill for wheelchair exercise testing and many other technical equipment – this environment has helped Loughborough become the number 1 ranked university in the world for sport-related subjects (QS World University Rankings – 2017-2023).  In our undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, students learn directly from the PHC’s academic staff who are advancing knowledge across the continuum of sport, exercise and rehabilitation.  We compliment teaching excellence with hands-on learning opportunities through partnerships that have included British Wheelchair Basketball, Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby, Lawn Tennis Association, British Paratriathlon and our local Loughborough Lightning (wheelchair basketball) team. At PhD level we have increased the possibilities for students to have local, national and global learning experiences to prepare them to excel in tomorrow’s Para sport and health and well-being disability professions. Many leaders in the Para Sports system have come from studying within this environment.

Find out more about the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport