Wheelchair rugby is a team sport for male and female athletes with a mobility-related disability in at least three limbs. It is a unique sport created by athletes with a disability that combines some elements of basketball, handball, and ice hockey. The object of the game is to carry the ball across the opposing team's goal line. Two wheels must cross the goal line for a goal to count, and the player must have firm control of the ball when he or she crosses the line. All wheelchair rugby players compete in manual wheelchairs. Players must meet the minimum disability criteria of the sport and must be classifiable under the functional classification system.
Wheelchair rugby was invented in 1977 in Winnipeg, Canada, by a group of athletes with quadriplegia who were looking for an alternative to wheelchair basketball. They wanted a sport that would allow players with reduced arm and hand function to participate equally. The sport they created, originally called murderball, is now known as wheelchair rugby. One of the founders, Duncan Campbell, is on the organizing committee of Canada Cup and is the National Director of the Bridging the Gap Program and National Development Director of Wheelchair Rugby Canada.
Wheelchair rugby first appeared outside Canada in 1979 at a demonstration at Southwest State University in Minnesota. The first Canadian National Championship was held the same year. The first team in the United States was formed in 1981 and the first international tournament, which brought together teams from the US and Canada, was held in 1982. Throughout the 1980s, other local and national tournaments took place in various countries. The first international tournament was held in 1989 in Toronto, Canada, with teams from Canada, the USA and Great Britain. This was a breakthrough for developing international competition and co-operation.
Wheelchair rugby first appeared at the World Wheelchair Games in 1990 as an exhibition event. In 1993, with 15 countries actively participating, the sport was recognized as an official international sport for athletes with a disability and the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) was established as a sport section of the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation (ISMWSF). Seven countries participated in wheelchair rugby at the 1993 Stoke Mandeville World Wheelchair Games. In 1994, wheelchair rugby was officially recognized by the International Paralympic Committee as a Paralympic sport. The first Wheelchair Rugby World Championships were held in Notwil, Switzerland, in 1995, with eight teams competing. In 1996, wheelchair rugby was included as a demonstration sport in the Atlanta Paralympic Games.
In 2000, Wheelchair Rugby was included for the first time in the Paralympic Games competition program as a full-medal sport at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games and has become one of the most popular Paralympic sports. Wheelchair rugby is currently actively played in twenty-nine countries and is under development in several others.
Who can play
To be eligible to play, individuals must have a disability that affects both the arms and the legs. They must also be physically capable of propelling a manual wheelchair with their arms. Athletes with neurological disabilities must have at least three limbs with limited functions; athletes with non-neurological disabilities must have limited function in all four limbs. The majority of wheelchair rugby players have spinal cord injuries which have resulted in full or partial paralysis of the legs and partial paralysis of the arms. Other disability groups who are represented include polio, cerebral palsy, some forms of muscular dystrophy, dysmelia, amputations, and other neurological conditions such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
A classification system is in place in order to ensure that athletes with different levels of disability can compete together. Each athlete is assigned a point value based on their level of function ranging from 0.5 (most disabled) to 3.5 (least disabled). Only eight points are allowed on the floor at any one time.
Men and women are classified equally and compete on the same teams; there are no separate men’s and women’s competitions. However, teams are allowed an additional 0.5 points for each woman who is playing in the line-up on the court.
At the international level most players use custom-made chairs meant to fit their size and specifications. There are two types of rugby chairs: Offensive chairs that are set up for speed and mobility and are usually used by players with more function (Class 2.0 and up). Offensive chairs have a front bumper with wings to brush off of contact and prevent other players from hooking onto it. Defensive chairs are designed to hook onto and hold other chairs; they have a “pick bar” on the front. These chairs are usually used by players with less function (1.5 and below).
The game is played with a white ball identical in size and shape to a regulation volleyball. In addition to the ball, four cones, pylons, or other similar markers are required to mark the ends of the goal lines. A game clock is also required; any clock used for basketball, handball, or other similar sports will be sufficient.
Wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a regulation sized basketball court. Hardwood is the preferred playing surface, although other surfaces are acceptable. The playing surface must be accessible to people in wheelchairs. Any facility which can be used for wheelchair basketball will be sufficient for wheelchair rugby.