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James Luetchford’s declassification from Para Alpine Ski Racing by the IPC - Details

This document (and accompanying appendices; not shown here for privacy reasons) were submitted to the President of the International Paralympic Committee in February 2020 by James and Alice Luetchford.


Summary


In November 2019, James Luetchford was mistakenly deemed ‘Non eligible’ to ski race by an International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) visual impairment classifier working for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).


James has ski raced for four years as a B2 visually impaired ski racer for Great Britain and has much evidence to prove that he is eligible to ski race. The test result used to declassify James in November was generated in error and does not match any other test result James has received in his 6 years since diagnosis of rod-cone dystrophy and then retinitis pigmentosa. Neither does it match the test result on the Humphrey’s machine generated the day earlier by other visually impaired classifiers working for the IPC.


James is not able to ski race until this mistake is rectified and has experienced significant financial, physical and mental health costs because of the classifier’s error. The estimated financial cost is over £36,000 (or > EUR 43,000.) This document summarises the detail of what happened and provides the evidence needed to understand the true nature of James’ disability, in the aim of getting James racing again as soon as possible.


The IPC had agreed that James could be seen in the Beidahu visually impaired classification in February 2020, and James had booked tickets to travel there as this is the only other visually- impaired classification panel globally during the 2019-20 winter season for para-alpine ski racing. However, unfortunately this event has been cancelled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.


The World Para Alpine Skiing Classification Rules and Regulations, August 2017 state that:

18.6 A second Classification Panel must review by way of a second Evaluation Session any Athlete who is allocated Sport Class Not Eligible (NE) on the basis that a Classification Panel determines that the Athlete does not comply with Minimum Impairment Criteria. This must take place as soon as is practicable. (Underlining added for emphasis.)


Therefore, as a matter of urgency, we beg you to consider the following options so that James might have a chance of ski racing in the 2019-20 winter season:


1) Remove the protest from 3rd November 2019 and allow James to race as a B3 until he can be reclassified in November 2020 at Landgraaf in Holland.


OR


2) Allow James to be seen at another sport’s visually impaired classification in Europe in February 2020.


…so that James can ski race at the back end of February, and the whole of March 2020.

James has committed considerable time, energy and financial resources to pursuing his dream of ski racing and is understandably extremely mentally distressed that this error has cost him the opportunity to ski race so far this season. There is still time to make this right and to allow him to ski race, and we beg you to consider this urgently.



Detail


James Luetchford was diagnosed with rod – cone dystrophy (and therefore ‘sight impaired’) by Professor Andrew Webster at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London on 21 February 2014. Due to the difficulties James faces in his daily life, his classification of disability was subsequently changed to be ‘Severely Sight Impaired’ in 2016.


Numerous highly qualified professionals have stated that James has 5 degrees of vision:

  1. Miss Parul Desai (MSc PhD FRCOphth FFPH); Consultant Public Health and Ophthalmology on behalf of Andrew Webster dated 27 Feb 2015

  2. Professor Andrew Webster, as part of James’ certificate of severe sight impairment in 2016

  3. Ira Mahac, medical retina department at Moorfields Eye Hospital, on behalf of Professor Webster in 2017

  4. Simon Horgan (FRCS FRCOphth), Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon and Consultant Ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital in 2019.

And in advance of James’ classification on 3rd November 2019, an independent optometrist determined James has 8 degrees of vision. A visual field of less than 10 degrees means James should be classified a B2 visually impaired athlete.


James was classified in both November 2015 and 2017 as a B2 visually impaired athlete by International Blind Sports Federation classifiers working on behalf of the International Paralympic Committee for Alpine Ski racing visually impaired classification. Peter Derksen and Shane Conroy classified James in 2015 and Peter Derksen and Ludwig Krabbe classified James in 2017.


Specifically, Peter Derksen and Shane Conroy determined James had 5 degrees of vision during James’ classification in November 2015. Due to being classified as a B2 visually impaired athlete by Peter Derksen in 2015, James started ski race coaching and training from January 2016 and first competed for Great Britain in international World Para Alpine Ski races (formerly known as IPCAS; International Paralympic Alpine Skiing races) and Europa Cup races from November 2016.


James had further check ups at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and took part in genetic testing. James obtained results from that test in August 2019, which confirmed that due to a defect in his IFT140 gene, he has simplex retinitis pigmentosa.


James was reclassified on 3rd November 2019 by Bob-Egbe Olusola and Ines A[1], who ran a Humphrey’s visual field test and by including James’ slight non-functional, peripheral vision determined James had <40 degrees of vision, so was a B3 category.


Supported by GB Snowsport, James Luetchford lodged a protest on the night of the 3rd November, arguing that the additional vision that made him a B3 rather than a B2 athlete is peripheral, non-functional vision and is more of a hindrance than a help. This protest was upheld by the IPC.


On the 4th November, the IPC arranged for James Luetchford to be seen at the Visio clinic in Sittard:

Visio Revalidatie & Advies Sittard – Geleen

Arendstraat 1A,

6135 KT Sittard,

Netherlands

+31 88 585 8800


There was only one classifier present, Peter Derksen. Peter Derksen tested James on a Goldmann Perimetry machine with James Luetchford and James Redpath (GB Snowsport representative) present. There is no evidence that the Goldmann Perimetry machine was calibrated in advance of this test.


Peter Derksen determined that James L had >70 degrees of vision based on one test on the Goldmann Perimetry machine. The results generated were very different to any other tests done on Humphrey’s machines previously; James’ genetic test results; James’ electrolysis results or photographs of the back of his eye. The test results were also very different to results generated using a more standardised, Humphreys’ machine the day before (3rd November) by the visually impaired classifiers.


On 4th November 2019, after being tested alone at Visio, James was then taken to Gijsen Optiek (Tempelplein 15, Sittard) where other visually impaired athletes were being classified on the Humphrey’s machine, to be told by both Peter Derksen and Ludwig Krabbe (another IBSA visually impaired classifier) that James was declassified and deemed ‘Non Eligible’ to ski race, with a 1 year review. James Redpath, the GB representative, witnessed this conversation.


That the Goldmann test results were so wildly different to any other test results (including those generated by the IPC one day earlier) for a degenerative, genetic condition was apparently not sufficient to warrant further questioning of the validity of the Goldmann test results by the IPC representatives or classifiers present. This one, obviously inaccurate and erroneous result was considered to be the new version of James’ ‘true’ disability. Additionally, Peter Derksen and Ludwig Krabbe started questioning James Luetchford’s diagnosis despite James L having the results of the genetic test on his person.


We are uncertain why James was taken to Visio to be tested on a Goldmann machine, as nothing in the IBSA or IPC rule books state that a protest must be undertaken on another type of authorised machine. No other athletes were taken to Visio for their visual impairment classification or were tested on a Goldmann’s machine.


André Roumen (the professional in charge of the Goldmann’s machine at Visio) has expressed surprise that Peter Derksen used the Goldmann machine, and states that:


On Thu, Jan 9, 2020 at 10:32 AM André Roumen <AndreRoumen@visio.org> wrote:

Dear James,

I made inquiry after examination and examiner and suppose that I know your IPC qualifier: Peter Derksen. I’m a bit astonished because assessment of the visual field is not his ‘daily job’. Even a not optimal calibration of the Goldmann cannot declare the difference between your 10 degrees and 70 degrees field. Maybe it’s not only the machine but also the examiner who is not optimal ‘calibrated’. I advise you to ask for a second opinion, preferably by the last qualifier you visited, and hope you will overcome this ‘misunderstanding’. Good luck!

André

The International Paralympic Committee process means that only test results generated during the actual protest are used when deciding an athletes’ classification. There is no option in the rules or processes to immediately appeal erroneous results nor to use previous test results (including genetic testing) to ascertain the true level of disability.


James Luetchford subsequently visited an ophthalmologist (Simon Horgan) on Harley Street in London on 26th November 2019. These clearly show that James has 5 degrees of vision. Simon Horgan’s technician ran both a Humphrey’s 120 point and a Goldmann Perimetry test (III 4) for James. The technician there expressed surprise verbally to James when he saw the results from Visio and stated that the test results did not seem to be from the same person.


James subsequently asked the IPC to be seen sooner than their usual review of 1 year. They agreed that James could be see in the only other visually impaired classification during 2019/20; Beidahu on the 17 – 18 February 2020. Despite the impracticality of travelling the other side of the world for one appointment, and the huge financial and time cost of doing so, James booked his travel (and travel for his father who was acting as his carer) and planned on attending the classification panel. However, unfortunately due to the outbreak of coronavirus, this event has been cancelled leaving James with no option to be classified until November 2020 in Landgraaf.


The World Para Alpine Skiing Classification Rules and Regulations, August 2017 state that:

18.6 A second Classification Panel must review by way of a second Evaluation Session any Athlete who is allocated Sport Class Not Eligible (NE) on the basis that a Classification Panel determines that the Athlete does not comply with Minimum Impairment Criteria. This must take place as soon as is practicable. (Underlining added for emphasis.)


Therefore, as a matter of urgency, we beg you to consider the following options so that James might have a chance of ski racing in the 2019-20 winter season:


1) Remove the protest from 3rd November 2019 and allow James to race as a B3 until he can be reclassified in November 2020 at Landgraaf in Holland.


OR


2) Allow James to be seen at another sport’s visually impaired classification in Europe in February 2020.


…so that James can ski race at the back end of February, and the whole of March 2020.

James has committed considerable time, energy and financial resources to pursuing his dream of ski racing and is understandably extremely mentally distressed that this error has cost him the opportunity to ski race so far this season. The financial costs to James due to this error are currently > EUR 43,000.


We urgently ask for James to be allowed to ski race. There is still time to make this right and we beg you to consider this urgently.


Cost


The cost of this declassification (not including mental distress) is currently estimated to be £36,490 ( > EUR 43,000)

  • Race licence for 2019/20 = £160

  • Race entry for Landgraaf and PItztal = £830

  • Trip to Beidahu for James and his father = £1,500

  • Cost of Alice putting her career on hold for 1 yr for the 2019 – 2020 season = £16,000

  • Lost earnings from James for the 2019 – 2020 season = £3,000

  • Lost opportunity to qualify for national funding for the 2019 – 2020 season = £15,000


[1] Rest of name is illegible on the submitted form by the International Paralympic Committee and their name does not appear on the IBSA list of members.

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©2019 by Luetchford Ski Racers.