Combining elements of rugby, basketball and handball, wheelchair rugby is a spectacular, fast-paced sport that is now fully established within the Paralympic movement.
Here are 10 facts about a sport known for its thrills and spills ahead of the start of the Tokyo Paralympics tournament on Wednesday.
The ground-breaking movie "Rising Phoenix" about the Paralympic movement will premiere on Netflix on Wednesday, August 26th, and includes a segment on WC Rugby athlete Ryley Batt. #RisingPhoenix https://t.co/aT9mqIw7Bw pic.twitter.com/BJ5x7ubX5o— Wheelchair Rugby (@IWRF) August 1, 2020
Who created wheelchair rugby?
Affectionately known as “The Quad Father”, Canadian Duncan Campbell first set the ‘wheels in motion’ in 1976 for wheelchair rugby to become the success it is today.
As a young athlete, Campbell developed the basic rules and regulations of the game and ensured that the sport was designed so that quadriplegics and others with high-level disabilities would have a sport that they could call their own.
In 2018, Campbell was the first individual to be inducted into the International Wheelchair Rugby Hall of Fame in recognition of his services to the sport.
When did the first competition take place?
In 1977, Campbell introduced the sport at a multi-sport/multi-disability event in Edmonton, Canada, and convinced a number of other provinces to put teams together. Two years later, Canada held their first National Championship, and in 1981 the first teams in the United States began to form. A year later, the University of North Dakota held the first International Wheelchair Rugby tournament with teams competing from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Minnesota.
By 1995, the first World Championships took place in Switzerland. A year later, wheelchair rugby appeared at the Paralympics as a demonstration sport before becoming a full medal sport at Sydney 2000.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics will be the sixth time teams have competed for a medal at wheelchair rugby.
How is it played?
There are several variants of wheelchair rugby, but the international version is played by four players on the court at any one time, from a squad of 12, passing a round ball to one another in an attempt to create space. Wheelchair rugby matches are played in four quarters, each lasting eight minutes, with a five-minute break between quarters.
The winner of a wheelchair rugby match is the team that has scored the highest number of goals. Goals are scored when a player crosses the opposition’s eight-metre try-line with two of his or her wheels on the ground. If the number of goals scored are level at the end of regulation time, three-minute overtime periods are played until a winner is declared.
Is there a battle for possession?
To encourage positive play and avoid the clock being run down by the team in the lead, a 40-second scoring rule was introduced in 2008. If a team hasn’t scored within that time, possession is handed over. Teams have 12 seconds to move the ball from their half of the court (each court measures 28 metres x 15 metres) into the opposition’s half. Players must bounce or pass the ball within 10 seconds of receiving it.
Is it a full-contact sport?
Very much so. Clashes between wheelchairs are very much part of the game and key to its spectator appeal. Hitting or blocking is used to either stop an opponent or to create space for a team-mate when on the attack. Dangerous play or committing a flagrant foul can result in sanctions.
What is the composition of a team?
The level of disability of a player in international wheelchair rugby has seven different classifications ranging from 0.5 to 3.5, with the lower the number the greater the level of physical restriction.
Teams of four cannot have an overall classification higher than 8.0. Players with a classification of 0.5 tend to be defenders or ‘blockers’, while those with the highest classification are more inclined to be playmakers suited to a more dynamic role. Teams are mixed, made up of both men and women. For each female player on the court, an additional half-point is allowed.
Are wheelchairs specially adapted?
Yes, and they can cost up to US$10,000! Wheelchairs used by attacking players are shorter with small bumpers and rounded wings so that they can turn and manoeuvre in tight spaces. Defensive wheelchairs are longer and have a wide bumper at the front designed to strike and hold opposing players.
Is it popular?
Most definitely – as both a participation and spectator event.
International wheelchair rugby is played in around 40 countries, 30 of whom are members of World Wheelchair Rugby.
Part of the Paralympics in 2000, Wheelchair Rugby was the first sport to sell out when tickets went on advance sale for the London 2012 Games. Sadly, no spectators will be allowed to watch the Tokyo Paralympic Games tournament in person due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Which country is the best in the world at it?
Australia currently tops the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation Rankings, with the USA and Japan – the current world champions – in second and third. Australia are bidding for a hat-trick of Paralympic gold medals in Tokyo having won in London and Rio.
The USA have also won two gold medals (2000 and 2008), with New Zealand topping the podium in Athens in 2004. New Zealand have, however, slipped down the rankings to 10th.
Five different continents are represented in the world’s top 10, reflecting the global appeal of the sport.
Who is the star of international wheelchair rugby?
It is hard to look beyond 3.5 classified player, Ryley Batt. Irrepressible in attack and defence, the four-time Paralympian was the main inspiration behind Australia claiming gold in the other three major events: the Rio 2016 Paralympics, 2014 World Championships and London 2012 Paralympics.