Wheelchair Rugby

Wheelchair Rugby

The GB Wheelchair Rugby team have come fourth in the last two Paralympic Games, Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004, and so went into London 2012 with the aim of finishing on the podium.

Preparations had gone well and included a silver medal at the 2011 European Championships. So the team went into the Paralympic Games with a high level of confidence.

Britain lost their opening match against the USA, ranked world number 1, but went on to face Paralympic newcomers, France, in their second match. It ended in a closely fought 57-50 win setting up a final group game against Japan, which Britain needed to win for a place in the semi-finals.

Aaron PhippsIt was a tough match but Britain couldn’t contend with the prolific goal scoring of Daisuke Ikezaki who scored 24 goals, almost half of Japan’s 51 goal total. The result meant it was the Japanese who ran out winners at 51-39 and progressed to the medal round matches.

The Great Britain side rallied, and they finished the tournament in style, beating Sweden 59-47 to end with a rank of 5th at London 2012.

The GB team for London was a relatively young team, with only three members of the squad having played in both Beijing and Athens (Andy Barrow, Ross Morrison and Jonathan Coggan). In total, six players made their Paralympic debut in London, and they will bring all that experience to Rio in 2016.

  • First year at a Paralympic Games:
  • Atlanta 1996 (demonstration sport)
    Sydney 2000
  • Brief history:
  • The game was invented in the 1970s, in Winnipeg, Canada by a group of athletes with quadriplegia who were looking for an alternative to Wheelchair Basketball. The first international tournament was held in 1989 in Toronto, Canada, with teams from Canada, the USA and Great Britain. Wheelchair Rugby first appeared at the World Wheelchair Games in 1990 as an exhibition event. The first Wheelchair Rugby World Championships were held in Notwil, Switzerland, in 1995, with eight teams competing.
  • Eligible impairment groups:
  • Athletes with tetraplegia or tetra-equivalent function may compete. The first classification system was medically based and there were three classes, largely determined by medical diagnosis and level of spinal cord injury.  In 1991, the system was changed to a functional classification system unique to the sport of wheelchair rugby. This was done for many reasons, including the need to have a system that would accommodate the growing number of athletes both with and without a spinal cord injury (such as polio, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and amputations).
  • London medal table:
  • 1 - Australia
    2 - Canada
    3 - USA
  • Did you know:
  • Wheelchair Rugby was originally known as ‘murderball’ due to its aggressive, full contact nature
  • London 2012 venue:
  • Basketball Arena, Olympic Park
  • Rio 2016 venue:
  • Rio Olympic Park, Barra Zone


Wheelchair Rugby is played indoors on a regulation-size basketball court by teams of four, using a white ball that is identical in size and shape to a volleyball. Teams are mixed, with men and women competing equally in the same team.

A match consists of four eight-minute quarters and the team scoring the greatest number of goals wins.

To score an athlete must cross the opposing team’s goal line in firm control of the ball. Two wheels must cross the goalline for a score to count.

Athletes must dribble or pass the ball every 10 seconds with failure to do so resulting in the referee handing possession of the ball to the opposing team.

Contact between wheelchairs is permitted and forms an integral part of the game. However, hitting an opponent’s chair behind the rear wheel results in penalisation, as does making physical contact with an opponent.

Players may lose possession of the ball, serve a one-minute penalty or be disqualified depending on the extent of the foul committed.

The result is a thrilling, quick-moving sport that requires plenty of skill and toughness from its competitors. United States and Canada dominate the sport, although Australia and New Zealand are also strong.


Wheelchair rugby athletes, because of the unique and varied nature of their muscle function, demonstrate combinations of varying stomach, back, chest, arm and leg movement in performing the wheelchair rugby skills of ball handling, such as passing, catching, carrying, and dribbling; and wheelchair skills that include pushing, starting, stopping, directional changes, tackling and blocking.
To determine an athlete’s class, (athletes are classified with a points system between 0.5 and 3.5) classifiers observe athletes as they perform a variety of these movements. Firstly, classifiers test athletes’ limbs for strength, flexibility, sensation, and muscle tone; and athletes’ trunks (abdominal and back muscles) for balance, ability to bend over and rise up and the ability to rotate to both sides (in combination with leg function, if present). The athlete is then observed performing both ball handling and wheelchair skills prior to game play and during game play, if necessary.  In addition, the athlete’s execution of ball and wheelchair handling skills are observed on court during actual game play.
Athletes with the highest level of impairment are classified as 0.5 players. In general 0.5 and 1.0 players are blockers and do not handle the ball as much as higher class players. This is mostly because of a high level of impairment in their upper limbs which means these players may not easily pick up or pass the ball.
1.5 players are predominantly blockers but may occasionally handle the ball. 2.0 and 2.5 players are both ball handlers and, due to an increasingly high level of strength in their shoulders, can build up speed on court. This makes them good ‘playmakers’.
3.0 and 3.5 players have a high degree of strength and stability in the trunk and are therefore usually the fastest players on court. The higher functionality in their upper limbs means they can handle and pass the ball comparatively easily.
In international Wheelchair Rugby the total number of points of all four athletes playing on court at any one time cannot exceed 8.0 points unless there is a woman on the court, in which case the team are allowed an extra 0.5.  A team may play with a line-up that totals less than this, but not more. 


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