Interview with Joey Johnson: “I hope that IPC and IWBF wake up and realise that this decision isn’t good for the game”

On June 18th, 2020, IWBF released a statement on the first set of decisions made by the IPC regarding the Eligibility Reassessment Process for the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games. In the statement it was revealed that 75% of the 134 athletes under review had received a decision from the IPC regarding their eligibility for the Games. However, many of the sport’s top athletes that fall under the ‘minimal disability’ category are still awaiting a decision.

Back in February, Rollt. spoke with three-time Paralympic Gold Medallist, Joey Johnson to get his initial thoughts on the IPC’s decision to invoke an Eligibility Reassessment Process focusing on 4.0 and 4.5 classified players.

At the time, this news came as a shock to the wheelchair basketball community as there was less than 200 days to go until the Paralympic Games in 2020. However, the Games have been postponed until 2021 due to the ongoing global pandemic. Extensions have been given to deadlines, hence why the first set of decisions were not addressed until last week.

Joey Johnson has decided to once again speak to Rollt.’s Dylan Cummings to give his opinion on IWBF’s latest statement regarding the IPC’s first set of decisions about the Eligibility Reassessment Process.

He is also very outspoken about his former teammate, David Eng being deemed as ineligible for the Paralympic Games by the IPC. A decision which has sparked an outcry of injustice within the majority of the wheelchair basketball community.


How do you feel about IWBF’s latest statement regarding the IPC Eligibility Reassessment Process?

“I am definitely not in favour of the ruling or the statement. I wish the IWBF would have taken a harder stance to fight for the rights of the athletes they represent and stand up for something that they (IWBF) believe in.”


What’s the mood like in Canada about the situation?

“Here in Canada I would say the mood is a bit of shock and disappointment. I can’t actually believe that it happened, even though we have been aware of it and preparing for it for months now. I truly feel for every single athlete, team and country that has been affected by this decision. We are a sport of inclusion and to have this ruling rip that inclusion away from us hurts.”


How do you feel about your former teammate, David Eng being deemed as ineligible by the IPC?

“I have all the love and respect in the world for David. He was always a warrior on the court and left it all out there. He has had a great career filled with highlights and championships. To be ‘forced’ out before he was ready to call it a career is not fair. It is unjust and, in my opinion, a disgusting way to treat an ambassador of the sport. Not only for wheelchair basketball, but a great ambassador for all Paralympic sport.”



What are your fondest memories of playing alongside David Eng?

“I have a ton of memories playing alongside Deng. I have known him since he was 13, so many years of getting to battle with and against him. As a teammate, he was the consummate player. He was literally willing to do whatever it took for the team to have success. If the team needed a basket, and he was on the court, he could get it done. If you needed some words of encouragement after a loss, he would be there for you. He was always thinking about and putting his teammates first.

I don’t know if I have any one or two ‘fondest’ memories of playing alongside him. I consider myself lucky to have been able to compete with him and after all these long years and most importantly to be able to call him a friend.”


What’s your opinion on the IWBF and IPC’s handling of the situation?

The only way I can sum it up is, it’s been poor. From the IPC springing the decision to remove wheelchair basketball from Paris 2024 and potentially from Tokyo 2021, to IWBF’s lack of communication with the national teams and athletes involved. I have said this before, but I feel it is worth repeating. Sport is and will always be about the athletes. Having good administrators, referees and support staff, help to make the sport better, but you can’t have sport without the athletes. I feel that, at times some administrators lose sight of that and I feel that this is a classic example of that. The only people that are truly being punished by this ruling are the athletes themselves, and ironically enough, they are the ones who have had the smallest voice in this whole process.”


How do you think the situation will affect the mental health of the athletes involved?

“I know that it has been weighing heavily on all the athletes that I have been in communication with. I don’t know how it can’t. Even for the athletes that this current decision doesn’t affect directly, it is weighing on their teammates the same. Everyone is concerned about the outcomes for their teammates, friends and competitors. It is very difficult to reach the international level in any sport. If you talk to any athlete that has had that opportunity, they will always say that they want to play against the best. Well, this ruling has just eliminated some of the best athletes from the game. I don’t know how anyone can feel good about that.”


What do you think the fate of the athletes still under review will be?

“I really have no idea. I hope that it works out for all of them and that they all get to continue to play this great sport. Or even better, I hope that IPC and IWBF wake up and realise that this decision isn’t good for the game. I think they should reverse the ruling, so we can go back and play the game how it’s meant to be played, by anyone who wants to play it!”


Do you know if there is an appeal process?

“From my understanding, there is an appeal process. What it involves and how it works, I’m not sure of yet.”


What do you see as the best possible outcome for this situation and how do you think the outcome will affect the game years down the line?

“I think the best situation that can come out of this is a wakeup call for everyone. Hopefully we can find a way to have athletes’ voices heard more. I don’t know how this will affect the game in the long term. I guess only time will tell.”


Thanks for your time Joey!


Rollt. would like to thank Joey Johnson for the interview.


Joey Johnson Profile

Date of Birth: 26/07/1975 (aged 44)

Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba

Started playing: 1984

Retired: 2012

Canada senior debut: 1995 Americas Cup

Classification: 4.5

Disability: Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease (LCPD)

Former Clubs:

  • Winnipeg Thunder, CAN (1984-94, 2001-03)
  • University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, USA (1994-01)
  • Wollongong Rollerhawks, AUS (2001-03)
  • Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks, USA (2002-03)
  • RSV Lahn-Dill, GER (2003-12)

Career Highlights:

  • All the great people of I have met over the world
  • 1997 U23 World Championships – Gold (Canada)
  • 2000 Paralympic Games – Sydney, Australia – Gold (Canada)
  • 2004, 2005, 2006, 2012 Champions Cup – Gold (RSV Lahn-Dill)
  • 2004 Paralympic Games – Athens, Greece – Gold (Canada)
  • 2006 World Championships – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Gold (Canada)
  • 2012 Paralympic Games – London, GB – Gold (Canada)
  • Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame 2013
  • US Collegiate Hall of Fame 2015
  • Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame 2016
  • Canadian Paralympic Hall of Fame 2019

Interview: Dylan Cummings | Photo: Armin Diekmann

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