Paralympic Swimming Program

17 August 2021

Para-Swimming Information

About the Sport

Since the first Paralympic Games in Rome, Italy, in 1960, Para-swimming has been a feature of the Paralympic program. Like the Olympic Games, athletes compete in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle and medley events. 

The International Swimming Federation's rules are followed with a few modifications, such as optional platform or in-water starts for some races, and the use of signals or 'tappers' for swimmers with a vision impairment. No prostheses or assistive devices are permitted in the water. 


Who can compete?

Para-Swimming is open to athletes with an intellectual, physical or vision impairment. Athletes are required to submit medical reports and meet the minimum impairment criteria in order to compete.




Minimum Impairment Criteria




Loss of limbs


Partial or complete absence of bones or joints due to amputation or deficiency from birth


Arm: one arm – more than 2/3 loss of one palm OR shortened arm of similar length; complete loss of four fingers on both hands

Leg: More than ½ loss of one foot or more than ¾ loss on both feet


Muscle weakness/ Impaired muscle power

Muscle weakness or paralysis from conditions such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, nerve damage, spinal cord injury or other spinal condition


Leg: Loss of strength in a hip, knee, ankle or foot that impacts on swimming

Arm: Loss of strength in a shoulder,

elbow, wrist or hand that impacts on swimming

Co-ordination impairments - Hypertonia, Ataxia, Athetosis

Impairments from neurological conditions such as acquired brain injury, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis that affect co- ordination and smoothness of

movement and balance.



Co-ordination or movement difficulties in at least one arm or leg


Para-Swimming Sport Classes

The prefix for each class identifies the stroke;

S - denotes the class for freestyle, backstroke and butterfly 

SB - denotes the class for breaststroke

SM - denotes the class for individual medley

Sport Classes

Description (Guide Only)

Swimmers with a Physical Impairment


S1, SB1, SM1

Swimmers who have significant movement difficulties in arms, legs and trunk. Swimmers use a wheelchair for everyday mobility.

Swimmers start in the water for all strokes, use assistance for water

exit and entry and complete all strokes on their back.



S2, SB1, SM2

Swimmers have significant movement difficulties in arms, legs and trunk, but with more propulsive ability in arms or legs than S1 swimmers. Swimmers use water starts and assistance with water



S3, SB2, SM3

Swimmers with some arm movement but with no use of their legs or torso; or swimmers with significant restrictions in all four limbs.

Swimmers use water starts and assistance in the water.


S4, SB3, SM4

Swimmers with good use of arms and some hand weakness with no use of their torso or legs; swimmers with significant limb loss to

three or four limbs. Swimmers usually start in the water.


S5, SB4, SM5

Swimmers with good use of arms, but no torso and leg movement; swimmers with some limb loss in three or four limbs. Some swimmers may start in the water and may have difficulty holding

good body position in the water.


S6, SB5, SM6

Swimmers with short stature; swimmers with good arms, some torso

and no leg movement; swimmers with significant impairment down one side of their body (limb loss or co-ordination difficulties).


S7, SB6, SM7

Swimmers with short stature; good arms and torso control and some

leg movement; or swimmers with co-ordination difficulties or limb loss down one side of the body.



S8, SB7, SM8

Swimmers with full use of their arms and torso with good hip

and some leg movement; or swimmers with limb loss of two limbs; swimmers without the use of one arm. Swimmers use regular starts, strokes and turns and may have some difficulties with timing of their



S9, SB8, SM9

Swimmers with weakness, limb loss or co-ordination difficulties in

one arm or leg only. Swimmers use regular starts, strokes and turns, but have some difficulties in applying even power to the water

S10, SB9, SM10

Swimmers with minimal impairment that affects one joint, usually

their foot or hand. Starts, turns and strokes are smooth and fluid.


Swimmers with a Vision Impairment


S11, SB11, SM11

Swimmers who are blind. Swimmers must wear blacked out goggles for competition and use a tapper as they approach the end of the pool. Swimmers often count strokes to know the length of the lane

and anticipate turns.


S12, SB12, SM12

Swimmers who have very low vision in both eyes either in how far they can see (visual acuity <2/60; LogMAR 1.5-2.6 inclusive) or how wide they can see (visual field <10 degrees diameter). Swimmers

have the option to use a tapper.



S13 , SB13, SM13

Swimmer who have low vision in both eyes, but more vision than S12 swimmers. Vision is affected either in how far they can see (visual acuity <6/60; LogMAR 1-1.4 inclusive) or how wide they can see (visual field < 40 degrees diameter). Swimmers may elect to use

a tapper.

Swimmers with an Intellectual Impairment

S14, SB14, SM14

Swimmers with an intellectual impairment. Swimmers may find it

more difficult to pace consistently and plan event tactics.



Not Eligible (NE)

Swimmers do not meet the minimum criteria for the Para-sport classes, but may still be able to compete. Contact Swimming

Australia for more information.


Find out more

To get involved or for more information contact us:


P: +617 3390 2011


Note: The classification information provided is intended as a guide only. Only authorised classifiers are able to provide a formal classification in accordance with the rules of sport. Not all classes may have events at the Paralympic Games. 

For more information on classifications please contact our classifications coordinator:


P: +61 411 982 352


(Information provided by Paralympics Australia) 

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