Hong Kong's sports chiefs said the International Paralympic Committee's decision to impose a world-wide ban on mentally handicapped athletes from all competition, including the Paralympic Games was an insult.
The controversy unfolded after it was discovered that 10 of the 12 members of the Spanish basketball team at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games were actually not intellectually disabled.
The IPC, the world governing body for physically disabled athletes, has suspended the membership of the International Association of Sport for Persons with an Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID), which governs mentally handicapped elites, until its investigation is concluded.
'We regretted that IPC made such a decision because our mentally handicapped athletes have put in so much hard work in training. It's an insult and a big blow to them,' said Laura Ling, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Mentally Handicapped, yesterday.
Hong Kong mentally handicapped athletes won a gold in table tennis and a silver in athletics in Sydney but Ling admitted the IPC decision was a big blow to their preparation for the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.
The Paralympics has included athletes with intellectual disability since 1992 but Hong Kong sent its mentally handicapped athletes for the first time at Sydney. Ling said: 'Our athletes have started to prepare for Athens because they have to win world rankings points to qualify. But now they might not be able to compete in world championships in some sports which are organised by the IPC. We received a major boost from what we achieved in Sydney but now we have suffered a blow.'
Ling is adamant that Hong Kong has done a good job in ensuring that the athletes they sent are actually intellectually disabled. 'We're stringent in assessing the degree of intellectual disability of our athletes. They're all studying in special schools which are all governed by the Education Department,' Ling said.