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An introduction to wheelchair rugby

Ryley Batt of Australia and Sholto Taylor of New Zealand clash in a competition for the ball
Ryley Batt of Australia and Sholto Taylor of New Zealand clash in a competition for the ball
Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

It has been one of the most popular sports at the Paralympics since being introduced as an official sport since the year 2000 but what exactly is Wheelchair Rugby?

The sport is the only full contact sport for people of a disability, in which players are able to collide with opposition in specially built custom chairs, made for colliding or blocking with their opponents.

Competitors in Wheelchair Rugby have a disability in at least three of their limbs, which makes it an almost quadriplegic only sport, leading to the official name in the United States being “Quad Rugby”.

The sport may be familiar to a number of people with the popular 2005 documentary “Murderball” that followed the USA national team, and was named in honor of the original name of the sport.

The sport was developed in Canada in 1976 under the name Murderball, and in the early days the game was played on asphalt outdoor basketball courts and in non-modified chairs.

The two teams are made up of four players on the court, with players given a classification value between 0.5 (least function) to 3.5 (most function), in order to create a level playing field each team’s four players on the court can only have a combined point score of eight.

That classification is conducted by official classifiers, who tend to be physicians who have experience with muscle strength, and have been trained specifically in classifying Wheelchair Rugby players.

The game continues to be played on a wheelchair rugby court, with some slightly different markings, the center line and circle marks the same, while there is a key at the end of the court that is 8x1.75m with the goal line being at the end of the court between the key, marked with a cone at each end of the key.

The teams score goals by crossing over the goal line in possession of the ball, but, unlike rugby, the ball does not have to be grounded, rather two of the wheels must be in contact with the ground after crossing the goal line.

Much like basketball there are restrictions on the players in the key, with only three defenders allowed in the key, while an attacking player is only allowed in the key for a maximum of ten seconds.

Much like basketball a player is not allowed to just move with the ball, they must bounce or pass the ball every ten seconds and they have only 12 seconds to advance the ball in to their front court, and a 40 second play clock.

Being a full contact sport the players are allowed to collide with their opponents but there are some needed restrictions.

Spinning (hitting an opponent from behind the main axle), holding or hitting an opponent with the hands, are all illegal moves, and fouls are punished by a one-minute penalty (similar to a hockey power play) for a defensive four or a loss of possession for an offensive foul.

Being such a fast game, taking just 32 minutes to play a complete game, and with full contact, It is one of the most popular sports in the Paralympic Games with Australia the 2012 champions, but USA got revenge and are the current world number one.