What Is Wheelchair Rugby?
A Little History
With its origins in Canada in the 1970s, wheelchair rugby evolved from the legendary ‘Murderball’ game created by a small group of disabled sportsmen who used to meet regularly to throw a ball around in a gym.Two teams of four do battle to score ‘goals’ by carrying the ball across the opposing team’s goal line. Thrills and spills are assured as the participants throw their specially-designed sports wheelchairs ferociously into the action.
Wheelchair Rugby players compete in manual wheelchairs specifically designed for the sport. Players must meet minimum disability criteria and be classifiable under the sport classification rules. Wheelchair Rugby is a Paralympic sport, with twenty-six countries competing in international competition and more than ten others developing national programs.
The sport first appeared outside of Canada in 1979, at a demonstration at Southwest State University in Minnesota. The first Canadian National Championship was held that same year. The first team in the United States was formed in 1981, and the first international tournament, bringing together teams from the United States and Canada, was held in 1982. Throughout the 1980’s, other local and national tournaments took place in various countries. The first international tournament with a team from outside North America was held in 1989 in Toronto, Canada. With teams from Canada, Great Britain and the United States, this was a breakthrough for developing international competition and cooperation. In 1990, Wheelchair Rugby appeared at the World Wheelchair Games as an exhibition event, which helped fuel the sports rapid growth and popularity internationally.
In 1993 with 15 countries actively participating, the wheelchair rugby was recognized as an official 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. That same year seven countries participated at the Stoke Mandeville International World Wheelchair Games.
In 1994, Wheelchair Rugby was officially recognized by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) as a Paralympic sport. The first Wheelchair Rugby World Championships were held the following year in Nottwil, Switzerland with eight teams competing. In 1996 Wheelchair Rugby was included as a demonstration sport in the Atlanta Paralympic Games with 6 countries competing. In 1998, Toronto, Canada hosted the second IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championship, and 12 countries attended.
Wheelchair Rugby was recognized as a full medal sport for the first time at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia. It has since been featured at the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008, and in London 2012. World Championships and the Paralympics are held every 4 years.
Currently, there are more than forty countries that actively participate in the sport of wheelchair rugby, or who are developing programs within their nation. The IWRF includes three zones: The Americas, with six active countries; Europe, with fourteen active countries; and Asia-Oceania, with six active countries.
The potential of the sport was underlined at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Capacity crowds watched in awe of both the sport and its athletes.
For more information regarding Wheelchair Rugby please visit
www.iwrf.com or www.gbwr.org.uk
Prince Harry at the 2014 Invictus Games - photo: OP Photographic