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Monday, 29 January, 2001, 18:41 GMT
Mentally disabled athletes face ban
Spanish Intellectual Disability basketball team
Spain celebrate after their gold medal victory
The International Paralympic Committee has suspended all intellectually disabled athletes after nearly all of Spain's gold-winning Paralympic basketball team in Sydney were found to have no mental disability.

The Bonn-based committee said in a statement that it would exclude these athletes from all IPC activities.

The reason given was that "serious problems regarding the determination of eligibility of athletes with an intellectual disability became evident during the last few months."

The committee said it would make another decision on the issue after further investigation.

Australian Paralympics team head coach Chris Nunn backed the decision, saying the ban would give authorities a chance to produce a test in an attempt to stamp out any abuse of the system.

"Clearly when you've got a country that can abuse the system and take people who do not have an intellectual disability into a competition such as the Paralympics there is obviously a deficiency in the classification area," he said.

"And I fully support a review of the whole classification system for the intellectually disabled."

No tests

The IPC's action is just the latest in a long saga that has tainted some of the success of the Paralympics since it finished last October.

The Spanish intellectually disabled basketball team had to return its medals last month after an investigation by the Spanish Paralympic Committee proved only two out of their 12 players suffered from a mental disability.

In November, Fernando Martin Vicente resigned as the vice-president of the Spanish Paralympic Committee (CPE) following the allegations.

The scandal started earlier that month when Carlos Ribagorda, a member of the basketball team, claimed that he and other medal winners were not in any way mentally deficient.

Ribagorda, a journalist, said that he played for the basketball team for over two years, and that he and nine team-mates were not subjected to any medical or psychological tests to check their eligibility.

Vicente had previously said the Spanish mentally handicapped athletes had passed the necessary tests.

Ribagorda said up to 15 members of Spain's Paralympic team, in categories such as track, table tennis and swimming, were not disabled.

In Australia, Spain had its most successful Paralympics ever, winning 107 medals, including 37 gold.

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