Dr Shamsul Azhar is a Senior International Para Badminton Classifier. Over the last 10 years volunteering for the BWF, he has classified hundreds of athletes, trained other medical professionals to be Para badminton classifiers and has been a mentor to many in the sport.
Classification is the first step into Para sport and any athlete wishing to participate in Para badminton must go through this formal assessment process. This assessment is designed to determine how their individual physical impairment impacts their ability to play badminton.
Dr Shamsul’s main role in this process is to work with one other classifier to assess athletes based on BWF’s minimal impairment criteria and to assign each athlete into one of the six sport classes for Para badminton competition.
Para badminton athletes need to be assured that this process is systematic and fair each time and be confident that they are competing against others in the right sport class relevant to their impairment.
“There are many types of disabilities and impairments and classification is an important process that ensures fairness in Para sports,” says Dr Shamsul.
“Classifiers examine, test and observe the athlete when they first appear in a competition and allocate them the correct class or category.”
Dr Shamsul has a long and successful connection to Para badminton and is one of the key individuals behind the scenes that has made Para badminton what it is today.
His own entry into Para sport classification came via being a Para athlete himself. Dr Shamsul represented Malaysia in Para table tennis from 2001 to 2009.
“I have a medical background as well as being a person with a disability and an athlete. In fact, I still play table tennis at least twice a week.””
Who better then to understand the needs of the athletes?
His first assignment as a classifier was during a national sports competition in his home state of Perak, Malaysia in 1996 when assessing athletics and swimming.
Almost a decade later, he became an international classifier for table tennis. That same year, he was introduced to Para badminton by the late Dr Jim Mackay, who established the International Badminton Association for the Disabled (IBAD) in 1995.
“I helped Dr Mackay create and improve the Para badminton classification process and until today I focus on classification for Para badminton, although I sometimes work on table tennis for national competitions in Malaysia,” he said.
Dr Shamsul is also currently a Consultant Public Health Physician and Professor of Epidemiology and Statistics at the National University of Malaysia (UKM).
Until recently he was still practising medicine but has now stopped seeing patients and focuses on research and teaching at the university as well as being a BWF classifier.
“I have worked at all levels of Para badminton events organised by the BWF, including the most recent ones in Brazil and Peru 2020,” he said.
“Initially, it was tricky juggling my medical practice and travelling for Para badminton. After a while, I got used to it and now classification is part of my daily work.”
Classification is carried out when there is a new athlete entered in an event or there is a need to review an athlete’s existing class. An athlete undergoes a physical examination and testing by the classifiers usually one day before the start of the competition.
Once the classifiers confirm the impairment, the athlete will be allowed to play in a particular class with others with similar impairment and function until and unless there is a change in the level of impairment or function of that athlete.
So, what makes a good classifier?
Dr Shamsul says: “Ideally, classifiers should have a medical background, with a specialty in rehabilitation, neurology and orthopaedics and if the classifier is an ex-badminton player, then that is even better.”
Keep up the fantastic work Dr Shamsul.