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What is Wheelchair Rugby?

Bringing together elements of rugby, basketball and handball, wheelchair rugby is among the toughest physical contact sports played by disabled athletes.

Developed in Canada and the USA in the 80s, the sport has grown dramatically in popularity. It was a major – and widely televised – attraction in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

International championships are held every four years, with twenty-six countries competing in internationally and more than ten others developing national programmes. The most recent IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championship was staged in Denmark in 2014.

Who plays the game and how they do it

Competitors play in teams of four and you have to carry the ball across the opposing team’s goal line in order to score. Contact between wheelchairs is a key element of the sport and players use their chairs in sportingly aggressive moves to block and hold opponents.

Using specially designed, manually operated wheelchairs, players are male and female quadriplegic athletes – in other words they must have a disability affecting their arms and legs.

Most wheelchair rugby players have spinal cord injuries with full or partial paralysis of the legs and partial paralysis of the arms. Other disability groups eligible to compete are cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations, polio, and other neurological conditions.

Under the rules, players are each given a sport classification determined by their specific disability and teams have to include players with a mixture of classifications. This is important to the ethos of the sport because it enables players with different disabilities to compete together.

How the modern sport was conceived and developed

Wheelchair rugby was conceived as alternative to wheelchair basketball. The idea was to produce a game in which players with reduced arm and hand function could compete on a more level playing field. Originally called Murderball, the sport later switched its name to Wheelchair Rugby.

It was recognised as a medal sport at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney and there have been tournaments at the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008, as well as the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

With more than forty countries either competing in the sport, or in the process of developing it, the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) comprises three global zones. In the Americas there are six countries. Europe has fourteen and Asia-Oceania, six.

Equipment and facilities needed to play

The wheelchairs designed for the sport ensure safety and fairness, with competitors using a white ball, similar to a volleyball. Four plastic cones are used to mark the goal lines.

The game is typically played indoors on a basketball court, and hardwood is widely regarded as the best surface, but not the only one. Any facility used for wheelchair basketball can also be used for wheelchair rugby.

Fish Insurance, proud supporter of the Liverpool Lions, will be competing at the Wheelchair Rugby Experience, hosted by the Spinal Injuries Association, in the Copper Box Arena at the Olympic Park, London, on October 28 2015.

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