WHEN the London 2012 Paralympics came to this country, it marked a watershed moment for para-sport. Over the course of those two weeks, the world saw a different side of para-sport, with London 2012 managing, for the first time, to persuade people that the Paralympics complemented the Olympics and were not, as had seemed on so many occasions in the past, a bolt-on.

London 2012 changed perceptions in quite a remarkable fashion – no longer were Paralympians viewed, patronisingly, as plucky triers in wheelchairs; London 2012 showcased them as elite athletes who were due every bit as much credit, and in some cases even more, than able-bodied athletes.

Until the past few weeks, para-sport had, in the main, been exempt from much of the criticism and negativity that has enveloped able-bodied sport in the past few years. But over the past month or two, this has all changed.

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Allegations began to circulate that athletes were exaggerating their disability in order to be placed in a more disabled category which would, in turn, give them a greater chance of winning.

The discussion has escalated to such a level that a Parliamentary select committee hearing was held on Tuesday, with 11-time Paralympic gold medallist Tanni Grey-Thompson amongst those giving evidence.

When Grey-Thompson was asked if the classification system was fit for purpose, she said: “Judged on what I have been told, I don’t believe we can confidently answer that question right now.”

And the committee heard that athletes had been threatened with not being selected if they dared to speak out about any classification concerns they may have had.

The classification system within para-sport has always been a thorny issue. It is an almost unwinnable battle – too many classes and there is not the strength-in-depth of athletes to make the event competitive, too few classes and the disparities between athletes are so great that the event becomes blatantly unfair.

As it stands, things are not right. The system is so broken that British T37 200m sprinter Bethany Woodward handed back a relay medal that she won at London 2012 as she believed the inclusion of one of her team-mates was giving the British team an “unfair advantage”.

The International Paralympic Committee dispute the claim that the classification system is not fit for purpose, as do a number of British Paralympians.

Nevertheless, the IPC are taking action – the classification rules are being revised and will come into effect from January 1 next year.

Para-sport had, to date, been largely untouched by the doping scandals that have plagued able-bodied sport. However, the classification scandal looks like it could be para-sport’s drugs issue.

It should perhaps be unsurprising that alleged foul play has reached para-sport.

As it has become more professionalised, it has become more lucrative, with sponsorship deals and television contracts far more commonplace. With money, more often than not, comes corruption.

And, as we have seen in able-bodied sport, higher levels of success can breed a win-at-all-costs culture. British para-sport has become so successful that any drop down the Paralympic medal table would be seen as an overwhelming failure. It would be naïve to think Paralympic sport is in any way immune from nefarious behaviour, particularly when able-bodied sport, at times, seems riddled with it.

What is particularly disturbing is that para-athletes are being treated very differently – some are being subjected to invasive and severe testing to prevent any attempts at cheating while others are afforded much more leeway.

Para-sport must nip this controversy in the bud now. Able-bodied sport has proven quite how difficult it is to rebuild a damaged reputation and if those in charge at the IPC have any sense, they will throw all their might behind sorting this issue out before it snowballs even further.

Because if they don’t, we could see the para-sport bubble burst in front of our eyes.