Rules and Classification
What is it?
Wheelchair rugby is a mixed sport in that teams can contain both men and women. It includes elements of basketball, ice hockey and handball and can be played by athletes with disabilities to both legs and arms.
The object of the game is to carry the ball across the other team’s goal line as many times as possible.
Who can compete?
Wheelchair rugby is open to severely disabled wheelchair athletes with arm and hand disabilities.
There are seven classes, each of which has a point rating on a scale between 0.5 and 3.5. The ratings are based on functional ability associated with the game of rugby. The most severely disabled athletes receive a lower points rating. The more physically able athletes receive a higher points rating. Each team of four players is allowed a maximum of 8 points.
How is it played?
- The ball is the same size and shape as a volleyball.
- A game consists of four quarters of eight minutes each.
- The game begins with a tip-off.
- A goal is scored when a player touches or crosses the other team’s goal line, inside the key area, while in control of the ball.
- The player with the ball must bounce or pass it at least every 10 seconds.
- When a team gets possession of the ball, they have 40 seconds to score a goal.
- Contact between wheelchairs is allowed, but physical contact is a foul.
- If a player commits a minor foul the other team gets possession of the ball.
- If a player commits a more serious foul s/he must leave the court for one minute.
This sport was officially named ‘wheelchair rugby’ in the late 1980s. Until then, this thrilling and intense sport was known as ‘murderball’ - the name that a group of Canadian wheelchair athletes had given it when they invented it in 1976.
‘Murderball’ is also the title of a 2005 American documentary film which was nominated for Best Documentary Feature for the famous Academy Awards. It tells the story of a group of wheelchair rugby players and focuses on the rivalry between the Canadian and US teams leading up to the 2004 Paralympic Games.
Although it was made on a very low budget it got excellent reviews. In fact the Rotten Tomatoes film review website described it as "An entertaining and gripping documentary that shows being confined to a wheelchair doesn't mean the fun has to end."
The film was also used in a US campaign called "Get Into the Game", aimed at raising public awareness about people with disabilities.
With publicity like that it is not surprising that the game is believed to be the fastest growing wheelchair sport in the world. Incidentally, the gold medal for wheelchair rugby at the 2004 Paralympics Games was won by New Zealand, with Canada second and the USA third.