Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Wheelchair rugbyMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Wheelchair rugby

Wheelchair rugby

Known in some circles as “quad rugby” and, more ominously, “murderball,” wheelchair rugby emerged in Canada in the late 1970s when quadriplegicDefinition: A person with a permanent condition in which he or she may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the trunk and/or the arms, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord; also called <i>tetraplegic</i>. athletes were seeking an alternative to wheelchair basketball and sled hockey. The first Canadian National Championships were held in 1979, and the first international tournament (between Canadian and U.S. teams) followed just three years later. The sport grew quickly throughout the 1980s and 1990s, bolstered by the establishment of teams in Great Britain and in dozens of other countries around the world.

Competition is typically open to athletes with limited or no function in their arms and legs. From roots of being played among athletes with spinal cord injuries (such as quadriplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the trunk and/or the arms, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord; also called <i>tetraplegia</i>.), the sport has expanded to include athletes with a wide variety of impairments.

During game play, athletes are allowed to carry, dribble and pass the ball. They are also allowed to make contact between wheelchairs to block and hold opponents. As such, the sport can get rough, and players frequently collide and end up on the floor. Given their unique muscle function, athletes may use their stomach, back, chest, arms and legs to do everything from handling the ball to tackling other players.

 

TIMELINE

1970s
Wheelchair rugby invented in Canada

1979
First Wheelchair Rugby Canadian National Championships

1982
First wheelchair rugby international tournament (Canadian and U.S. teams)

1989
First wheelchair rugby international tournament with a team from outside North America (Great Britain)

1990
Wheelchair rugby appears as an exhibition event at the World Wheelchair Games

1993
International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) established

1995
First Wheelchair Rugby World Championships held in Switzerland

1996
Wheelchair rugby appears as a demonstration sport at the Atlanta Paralympic Games

2000
Wheelchair rugby debuts as a medal sport at the Sydney Paralympic Games

EVENTS

Paralympic wheelchair rugby competition consists of a tournament for teams of both men and women. Each game is played by two teams of four players each and consists of four eight-minute quarters. The objective of the game is to score more goals than the opponent.

EQUIPMENT

Wheelchair rugby athletes use a white ball (often a volleyball) and specially designed rugby wheelchairs whose wheels slant inward.

The sport is typically played indoors on a regulation sized basketball court. As such, any facility used for wheelchair basketball can also be used for wheelchair rugby.

FAST FACTS

USA! USA! Team USA has medaled in every Paralympic Games wheelchair rugby competition, since the sport was introduced.

Gooooooal: To score a goal, a player must touch the goal line with two wheels while in possession of the ball.

No ball hogs: The ball must be bounced or passed between teammates at least once every 10 seconds during game play.

Under review: If an athlete’s functional skills straddle two sport classes, officials assign the athlete the higher sport class to begin competition and leave him or her “in review” for observation during game play. As a result, you may see an athlete listed with an “R” following the sport class—for example, 1.5R.

Athlete Spotlight:

Josh Wheeler

Since childhood, Utah native Josh Wheeler (sport class 2.5) has been known as "Wheels" thanks to his love of going fast. That nickname took on a new meaning when Wheeler entered the sport of wheelchair rugby after being involved in a car accident. The accident, which broke his neck and almost took his life, put him on a new path. Without function in his lower body and only partial function in his right arm and hand, he labored through recovery and physical therapy, staying positive by keeping his sights on his ultimate goal: to live independently once again.

After the accident, the athletic Wheeler looked for an adaptive sport in which he could participate. He tried wheelchair basketball, but he didn't have the trunk muscles to excel. One of his therapists gave him a copy of Murderball, an Oscar-nominated documentary about the sport of wheelchair rugby. Thinking it looked like fun and eager to get back into a contact sport, Wheeler strapped into a rugby wheelchair—and from the first hit, he loved it. He joined the Utah Scorpions wheelchair rugby team and, after just two seasons of play, he joined the developmental arm of Team USA.

Since joining Team USA, Wheeler has competed in wheelchair rugby competitions across the globe, including bringing home multiple medals at the world championships and Paralympic Games.

Althete Spotlight Josh Wheeler

CLASSIFICATION

Paralympic wheelchair rugby competition is open to male and female athletes with physical impairments. Each player on a team is allocated one of seven sport classes, ranging from 0.5 to 3.5. During competition, each team of four players is allowed to have only 8 points on the field of play at the same time. For example, a team could consist of four players: 3.5, 2.5, 1.5 and 0.5 (which adds up to 8). If a woman is on the court, that team is allowed an extra 0.5 point. The purpose of classification is to ensure that all eligible players have an opportunity to be an integral member of the team.

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es).

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

Whereas most wheelchair basketball athletes have normal arm and hand function, wheelchair rugby specifically emerged for athletes with limited or no function in three of four limbs. The main differences between athletes of different sport classes are trunk control and sitting balance, which allow them to lean forward and sideways to catch, carry, dribble and pass the ball as well as push the wheelchair and react to contact.

0.5–3.5

0.5

1.0

1.5

2.0

2.5

3.0

3.5

0.5

Wheelchair rugby sport class 0.5 is for players with little to no trunk or leg control. These players have significant shoulder instability and limitations in their upper arm and hand functions. Athletes in class 0.5 are typically blockers rather than major ball handlers. When they do handle the ball, these athletes may catch it by trapping it in their lap and throw it using a two-hand scoop pass.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair
 Range of
Severity

1.0

The activity profile of these athletes fits in between the profiles of athletes in sport class 0.5 and those in sport class 1.5. They generally have more strength in their upper chest and shoulders, allowing them to turn, start and stop in every direction. They may catch the ball with their wrist and throw it with a weak chest or forearm pass. Athletes in class 1.0 are generally blockers and not major ball handlers, though they may in-bound the ball.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

1.5

Compared with those in sport class 1.0, these athletes can move partially out into the forward plane, rotate their upper trunk and transition faster from catching to passing or shooting. This strength and stability allows them to serve as excellent blockers and occasional ball handlers.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

2.0

The activity profile of these athletes fits in between the profiles of athletes in sport class 1.5 and those in sport class 2.5. They generally have strong, stable shoulders that allow for pushing speed and effective chest passes. These athletes are generally ball handlers, though a lack of hand function requires them to hold the ball with their wrists—a disadvantage in protecting the ball.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

2.5

Compared with those in sport class 2.0, athletes in 2.5 are ball handlers and fast playmakers due to some presence of trunk control and improved hand function. These athletes may catch and throw passes with a single hand.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

3.0

The activity profile of these athletes fits in between the profiles of athletes in sport class 2.5 and those in sport class 3.5. Generally they are very good ball handlers and fast playmakers with some trunk control and the ability to handle the ball well with just one hand.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

3.5

Wheelchair rugby athletes with the mildest physical impairments—though still severe enough to qualify for the Paralympic Games—compete in sport class 3.5. Athletes in this class are often the primary ball handler and playmaker on the team. Thanks to a combination of trunk and hand function, these athletes have the most control of all wheelchair rugby athletes over ball handling and chair skills.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair
 Range of
Severity