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Background to IDBF's Rules for Paradragon Racing

IDBF’s Para Athletes Commission is responsible to IDBF for the development of rules and recommendations regarding Paradragon racing. The Para Athletes Commission was established in 2017 with the expectation it would help develop an environment that would encourage greater participation of Para Athletes (Paradragons) in the sport of dragon boating.

The Commission was aware that Paradragon involvement was already quite widespread but there was no agreed way for athletes living with different kinds of impairment to compete fairly against each other.  Local events tried to implement some rules around participation, but these varied considerably and, anyway, IDBF had nothing it could rely upon for its own competitions.

The Commission therefore decided that:
•    the development of appropriate rules for Paradragon racing would become its priority; and
•    it had to find a way to allow paddlers with very different impairments to race against each other


The second point was fundamental in shaping the current rules.  Many sports restrict participation to only those who live with specific impairments – in other words they are ‘exclusive’ – and then only provide for athletes with similar impairments to compete against each other.  Dragon boating wants to be ‘inclusive’ and the large number of paddlers in a boat meant that a way had to be found both to encourage inclusion while keeping things fair for all involved.

Furthermore, the Commission recognised the possible difficulties some teams might have in fielding a Paradragon crew that conformed also to the various age and gender racing classes (Junior, Senior, Womens, Mixed etc) and decided that all Paradragon racing would therefore be ‘open’ but with allowances for age and gender.

With this as the foundation for the rules, the Commission embarked on developing something that had not been done anywhere else in international sport – develop rules for racing that would provide for a mix of impairments, ages and genders to race fairly against each other.

Clearly, the nature of a person’s impairment would be the most important factor in these Paradragon rules and how that impairment would affect the ability of the athlete to contribute to the performance of the dragon boat.  The Commission decided that it would assess impairments on a sliding scale of 0 to 20 ‘points’ where 20 points would be awarded to a fully unimpaired paddler and progressively lower numbers of points awarded as the impact of the impact became ever more significant.

Impairments can affect athletic performance, but to very different degrees depending on the activity being undertaken. For example, a visually impaired person may struggle to play tennis but could excel at weightlifting or tug-of-war. The Commission was firm in its belief that the effect of any impairments is sport-specific, and it had to assess those effects only in the context of paddling a dragon boat.

For dragon boat paddling, those with a missing upper limb (or complete loss of use of an upper limb) are probably the most disadvantaged.  Very close in terms of impairment are those with spinal impairment as they do not have the trunk function and stability of those without such impairments.  Those living with sensory impairments and some psychological conditions tend to be able to paddle effectively and powerfully and therefore are at the other end of the disadvantage spectrum.

Once the athlete’s impairment had been ‘scored’ attention would then turn to age and gender.

In general (accepting there will always be exceptions):

  • the human body attains peak physical performance between the ages of 20 to 40 - younger people become stronger and fitter as they approach this ‘peak’ age while performance will fall thereafter with increasing age; and

  • males are capable of greater physical strength and exertion than females  


The impairment score would then be adjusted, as necessary, with allowances for age and gender.

The ‘scoring’ for impairments and the adjustments for age and gender are set out in detail in the published Rules for Paradragon Racing; examples of how the scoring works in practice are also provided.

In July 2018, less than a year after the work had started, IDBF adopted the Commission’s draft rules based on the above approach!  The rules were published both as a discussion document but also to encourage trial use in real competition.  In 2019, the European Dragon Boat Federation (EDBF) used the draft rules for the Paradragon races in its European Club Crew Championships in Seville.  The feedback from EDBF was completely positive.

In September 2020 IDBF’s Rules for Paradragon Racing were first formally adopted as a component of IDBF’s race rules.

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