Tim Frick was the Canadian Women’s National Team Head Coach for almost twenty years, from the early nineties through 2009. He has continued his life in sport as a Canadian classifier at the domestic level. Canada’s John Loeppky spoke to Tim about the current classification controversy and his views on the topic.
What was your first reaction when you found out about the ineligibility decisions by the IPC and the IWBF?
“Well I was shocked when I first heard about the whole kerfuffle. I mean, somewhere along the line, I must have not seen that coming for a variety of reasons. And then when I’ve seen some of the decisions now, I don’t really know enough about the individual sort of [medical] conditions. But I do know from being an international coach, having submitted a few athletes over the years for a minimal disability, I do know that the process the IWBF used is very, very stringent, very time consuming for the people doing the submitting. And pretty clear, at least it was to me, it’s pretty clear what the criteria was so, I am a little bit in shock and I’m disappointed.”
I saw that you shared the Change.org petition that has been going around in the wheelchair basketball circles. Why did you feel it was important to share that petition?
“I was quite confident that the sport was moving towards an elite sport model and then all of a sudden, the IPC decides, well, let’s go back to the medical model that served the sport back in the 50s or so. So, I was a little disappointed about that. And I was also disappointed because, you know, a lot of the organisations both nationally and internationally, talk about this concept of inclusion and inclusivity. And clearly that’s not the case with this medical model that they are promoting.
The other thing that really annoyed the living daylights out of me was the fact that they are not putting the athletes first. I can’t tell you how many thousands of sport conferences I’ve been to, and coaching seminars, and everything else, and the athlete-first concept, again, has been around for the last 30-35 years, as one of the key tenants of sport in our society. And clearly, this whole situation has not put the athletes first and I’m not just talking about the athletes who have been affected by the decisions, but also their teammates.
I was also disappointed that the IPC did not recognise the autonomy of the IWBF. And you know, if you want a member institution to participate in your games, and you want your sponsors to be involved, I mean, you really need to give them the autonomy to choose who can play and who can’t, it’s the autonomy of the IWBF that should have been upheld.
“The last thing that really sort of bothered me a little bit, I guess, is, it’s a little bit of you know, I’m not one to speak about this, really, but it’s a little bit of an ableist sort of approach to, participate in the sport. And I think a number of the groups maybe some of the videos you see from various groups are sort of, in my opinion, guilty of preying on the sympathies and heartstrings of sponsors and donors. And, you know, I had hoped and thought that maybe we were a little bit more, we were above that and had sort of moved on, and treated athletes as athletes and sport as sport.”
So, who are some of those groups that you feel are preying on the sympathies of sponsors?
“I think, you know, there’s lots of videos being coming out now by the IPC that that they’re showcasing athletes, you know, for sure, which is which is kind of nice. But I don’t watch them because to me, the sponsors and the pocketbook is where things are, and they’re using those kinds of videos to, to gain sponsors and, in my opinion, gain sympathy instead of an admiration for elite sport, regardless of who the participant may be. So, it’s an interesting sort of model. And I think if the athletes, who seem to have united around this issue, really [want to make change] they need to get the sponsors on board to put pressure on the various organisations to change it back to the functional system. And I think that’s the only way they’re going to have success because It’s not an athlete-first centric system. it’s a ‘let’s get as much money as we can and make sure our VIP passes still work’ system.”
I saw in the Canadian women’s team’s letter, I’m not sure if you saw it. That was to the IWBF and the IPC. One group that they called out was the athletes’ council of the IPC. Given that you were in those conversations for 20 years, how do you think those issues filtered down to places like the CPC or UK Sport and then further down into wheelchair basketball Canada or whoever?
“That’s a good question. You know, probably 40 years ago the number of people involved was less and the sense of community and the intergroup cooperation was probably greater. I think now because it’s so hierarchical, because it’s so bureaucratic, that I’m not so sure the messages manage to flow through the system as effectively as perhaps they should. So, you know, as every support group matures the bureaucracy also matures [laughs] and that’s a big challenge for us. And that’s pretty exciting to see the women’s team make that statement. You know just because we’ve mostly been sort of keeping our mouth shut about things over the years. You know, not being able to participate or [fearing] being blacklisted or something, not that it ever happened. But, you know, you don’t want to upset the applecart as it were. So, our approach, I think, was more trying to curry favour through cooperation and relationship building and now I think the bureaucracy has gotten so big that that relationship building is getting tougher and tougher.”
How do you view this from the, from the classifier point of view?
“Well it’s kind of tough because the minimal disability concept has been out of the hands of us mere mortal classifiers, shall we say, forever and it’s always been in the hands of an international panel. And so, for me, all I do is try to find out someone’s medical history in terms of why there might be a permanent condition, and then find out a bit about their function. And from there, all I can do is say, ‘Well, you know, you might be a good candidate, get your materials together, submit it to either an Anne [Lachance] or Karen [Ferguson] whoever was the chair of the [classification] committee is at the time, and they will submit it to the International Committee.’ So, my role as a classifier wasn’t in evaluating any of those cases only in recommending, they go forward to the IWBF. So, my job as a classifier is to observe the player’s function and try to come up with the fairest possible classification number for them, so that they had the best chance to play and that their teammates had the fairest chance. And knowing that, you know, you’re trying to quantify a qualitative process, it’s agonising sometimes and it’s extremely difficult to arrive at a fair answer in some cases.”
Interview: John Loeppky | Photo: Kevin Bogetti-Smith / Wheelchair Basketball Canada