German court awards Brenna Huckaby an interim injunction, giving her a potential path towards inclusion at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics

The door to Paralympic participation has been opened once more for adaptive snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, after a German court ruled to award her an interim injunction against the IPC’s decision to bar her from competing at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics.

Brenna Huckaby celebrates victory at 2021 WPSS World Championships. Photo credit: Gisle Johnsen. Photo provided by: International Paralympic Committee
Brenna Huckaby celebrates victory at 2021 WPSS World Championships. Photo credit: Gisle Johnsen. Photo provided by: International Paralympic Committee

The image of a rising phoenix has become synonymous with the Paralympic movement after the release of the hit documentary titled, Rising Phoenix. However, the image may soon be a fitting description of Paralympic snowboarder, Brenna Huckaby.

Huckaby, who had originally been denied a chance to compete at the 2022 Winter Paralympics, won a small victory on Thursday when a German court awarded her an interim injunction against the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

As reported by Around the Rings earlier this week, Huckaby had been left without a route to Beijing 2022 when the IPC decided to drop her classification and events from the 2022 Winter Paralympics in 2019. The reasoning given for this decision was that the classification and events had failed to meet minimum participation requirements in the run up to Beijing 2022.

Huckaby, classified as a women’s SB-LL1 snowboarder, originally thought she would be allowed to “compete up” in the women’s SB-LL2 classification, or even the men’s SB-LL1 classification. However, much to her disappointment and frustration, she was not given that option by the IPC.

The IPC stated that Huckaby had “requested to compete in either the men’s SB-LL1 category or the women’s SB-LL2 category,” but that “under the World Para Snowboard rules, women are not eligible to compete in men’s events, and also cannot participate in sport classes at the Paralympic Winter Games for which they are not eligible.”

Adding, “as a result, the athlete’s request was denied by both the IPC and World Para Snowboard.”

Brenna Huckaby USA competes in the Snowboard Women’s Banked Slalom SB-LL1 Run 3 at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre. The Paralympic Winter Games, PyeongChang, South Korea, Friday 16th March 2018. Photo: Joel Marklund for OIS/IOC. Handout image supplied by OIS/IOC
Brenna Huckaby USA competes in the Snowboard Women’s Banked Slalom SB-LL1 Run 3 at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre. The Paralympic Winter Games, PyeongChang, South Korea, Friday 16th March 2018. Photo: Joel Marklund for OIS/IOC. Handout image supplied by OIS/IOC

In a letter published to Twitter that explained her situation and laid out her position on the matter, Huckaby stated, “I have long been a proud advocate for the Paralympic Movement, which is supposed to be the leader of diversity & inclusion. Yet when it comes to its flagship event, the @Paralympics, my disability is the reason I’m excluded.”

She continued, “I have done everything I can to confirm my eligibility for Beijing. I have fought with petitions, submissions & legal action. I fought by earning podium finishes in the harder class. I fought by winning a World Title, proving I deserve the opportunity to compete on the world’s biggest stage. And now I am fighting by speaking out.”

The two-time gold medalist concluded, “despite everything, I still dream of competing for @teamusa at the Paralympics. I hope that in speaking out, my story can pave the way for an even more inclusive and representative Paralympic Games, and society, moving forward.”

Huckaby’s request for an injunction was originally denied by a German court in December 2021, but a subsequent appeal saw her awarded an interim injunction on Thursday, reigniting her dreams of Paralympic inclusion.

Reacting to the decision, Huckaby told ESPN through her agent; “I am grateful that the court recognized the merits of my case and the broader impact of prioritizing inclusion. While this was a big win, there is always more work to be done, and I hope that this reminds adaptive athletes and the disabled community more broadly to never give up on our fight for inclusion.”

For its part, the IPC reacted to the ruling by expressing its “surprise and disappointment.”

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games Closing Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - September 5, 2021. International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons speaks during closing ceremony. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games Closing Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - September 5, 2021. International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons speaks during closing ceremony. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Andrew Parsons, IPC President, commented, “we are extremely surprised and disappointed at the court’s decision which shows a complete disregard for the rules and regulations of World Para Snowboard and the Beijing 2022 qualification criteria, and a lack of understanding of the classification system in Paralympic sport.”

“We eagerly await the court’s written decision because in our view the rules for World Para Snowboard could not be clearer: athletes cannot participate in sport classes at the Paralympic Winter Games for which they are not eligible. Brenna is eligible for the SB-LL1 class and not the SB-LL2 class. Despite this, the court for whatever reason has dismissed the rulebook and ignored the Beijing 2022 Qualification Criteria.”

He concluded, “It goes without saying that the IPC is understanding of Brenna’s cause. She is a world class athlete and a Paralympic champion who is desperate to compete and represent her country at the very highest level. But she is not alone in wanting to do this.”

“Across the world, there are thousands of Para athletes who want to compete in the Paralympic Games. However, due to the nature of the event - the pinnacle of Para sport - not every sport class and sport event can be included. As a result, there are always athletes who miss out and are disappointed.”

It remains to be seen if Brenna Huckaby will be one of those athletes disappointed in missing out on the Paralympics, or if she will ultimately find a path that leads to the 2022 Winter Paralympics. The answer to that unknown may ultimately be determined by a German court, where one of the most intriguing battles of Beijing 2022 continues to play out