Ready for Rio: Wheelchair rugby, 16 facts

By Jillian Clarke | Nov. 13, 2014, 4:21 p.m. (ET)

Joe Delagrave
Paralympian Joe Delagrave helped Team USA take home a bronze medal for wheelchair rugby at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The clock is ticking! Only 664 days remain until athletes gather in Rio to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games. Don't rough it; make sure you learn these 16 facts about the Paralympic sport wheelchair rugby to prepare for the Games:

1. Paralympic history
After wheelchair rugby was demonstrated at the Atlanta 1996 Games, the sport had its chance to debut as an official Paralympic sport at the Sydney 2000 Games. Currently, there are 26 member countries that play wheelchair rugby.

2. Combination sport
Wheelchair rugby was invented by athletes with quadriplegia who wanted an opportunity to play something other than basketball. They created a sport that mixed together elements of basketball, handball, hockey, and rugby. Before being known as wheelchair rugby, the sport was referred to as “murderball” because of the sport’s high intensity and rough nature.

3. Classifications
Wheelchair rugby athletes have arm and leg impairments and are classified between the numbers 0.5 to 3.5. Athletes with a high level of ability are ranked with higher classification numbers and are usually the ball handlers. Athletes with a lower classification are often used as blockers during the game.

4. Teams
Wheelchair rugby allows each team to have four players on the court at one time. For a team, the combined number of classifications on the court is allowed to reach a maximum of 8.0 points, which helps keep levels of disability fair among teams. Men and women can play on the same team.

5. Rugby arena
Wheelchair rugby uses the same court dimensions as a basketball court, which is 94ft by 50ft. Lines within the two courts however are different; the biggest difference is the key area near the goal line.

6. The ball
The ball used in wheelchair rugby is almost identical to a volleyball.

7. Scoring a goal
In order to score a goal in wheelchair rugby, both wheels of an athlete’s wheelchair must pass the goal line while the athlete has full possession of the ball.  The goal must be scored within 40 seconds or it is an automatic turnover.  Additionally, the ball must come out of the back court within 12 seconds or it is also an automatic turnover.  

8. Passing
During a game, players with the ball are required to either pass or dribble every 10 seconds. If a player fails to do so, a turnover is assessed and the ball is awarded to the opposing team.

9. The penalty box
Similar to hockey, a player who fouls during the game can receive a penalty. The player is removed from the game and must sit in the penalty box until a goal is scored.  The exception is a flagrant foul which at the discretion of the referee can result in a longer penalty and/or expulsion from the game. 

10. Matches
A wheelchair rugby match is made up of four periods of eight minutes. At the end of the first and third period, players are given a two-minute break, and a five-minute break is given for halftime between the second and third period.

11. Overtime
If both teams are tied by the end of the game, an overtime period of three minutes will be played. The team with the higher amount of points by the end of the overtime wins.

12. Participation
Wheelchair rugby originated in Canada in the late 1970s and made its way to the U.S. shortly afterward. Since then, there are more than 40 countries that participate in wheelchair rugby or are developing programs.

13. London 2012
At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, eight countries competed in one medal event. A total of 90 athletes, including 88 men and two women, took part. Australia went home with a gold medal, while Canada won silver and the U.S. won bronze.

14. The top three
Australia, Canada and the U.S. have placed in the top three countries at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games. Both Australia and the U.S. have won a gold medal for wheelchair rugby. With another gold medal for Australia and the U.S. or a first gold for Canada on the line, spectators can expect some exciting matches in Rio!

15. Team USA
Since wheelchair rugby’s Paralympic debut at the Sydney 2000 Games, the U.S. has won a medal at each Games. Currently, the U.S. has two gold and two bronze medals.

16. Where to watch in 2016
Wheelchair rugby will be played in Olympic Hall 1 within the Rio Olympic Park Precinct in the Barra region of Rio during the 2016 Games. The complex is being built specifically for the Games and will hold approximately 16,000 spectators.

To learn more about Paralympic wheelchair rugby, visit U.S. Quad Rugby Association, International Wheelchair Rugby Federation and Team USA.