Credit: Anthony Hayton

Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby

Wheelchair rugby’s no-holds-barred nature quickly earned it the nickname ‘murderball’ soon after its inception. It’s a game loaded with full-contact, hard hits, speed and physical determination, making it a thrilling watch.

The game is played on a basketball court, with boundary lines, a centre line, centre circle and two key areas. Two cones at each end of the court mark out a goal area, and a goal is scored when a player carries a ball across the line.

Games are played in four eight-minute quarters and each team has 40 seconds to score a goal before the ball gets turned over. Chair-to-chair contact is allowed, but person-to-chair and person-to-person contact is not.

Teams are made up of up to 12 players, with four on court at any one time. Each person has a vital role to play, which is ensured by using a classification system based on muscle function and strength. Classes range from 0.5 to 3.5, and the team of four players must total eight points or less during play.

Who Can Play?

To be eligible to play the Paralympic discipline of wheelchair rugby, athletes must have a disability which affects the arms and legs. Many athletes have spinal cord injuries, with full or partial paralysis of the legs and partial paralysis of the arms. Other eligible disability groups include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations, polio, and other neurological conditions. Athletes undergo classification to ensure that they are eligible, and are issued with a classification based on their functionality, Men and women compete on the same teams and in the same competitions.

What Equipment is Needed?

Wheelchair rugby is played in specially adapted manual wheelchairs. These chairs are designed to be able to handle the powerful crashes that occur during a game of wheelchair rugby and are specifically adapted for this sport. Athletes can create bespoke chairs which are moulded and built to their body and style of play. There are two types of rugby wheelchair:

  • Offensive chairs, which are typically used by more functional and faster players – this has a rounded front and is built for speed and nimbleness.
  • Defensive chairs, which are typically used by less functional players whose main role is to stop the opposing team’s offensive players from scoring by ‘picking’, or holding, them

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