Wheelchair rugby is a team sport for athletes with a disability. Developed in Canada in the late 1970s, it is currently practiced in over twenty countries around the world and is a Paralympic sport.
The sport's original name was murderball; in the United States, it is referred to as quad rugby. Certain formats of wheelchair rugby require that all players are quadriplegic, while others call for impairment of at least three limbs of the individual players. The majority of wheelchair rugby athletes have spinal cord injuries at the level of their cervical vertebrae. Other eligible players have multiple amputations, polio, or neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, some forms of muscular dystrophy, or Guillain-Barre syndrome, among other medical conditions.
Wheelchair rugby is a mixed sport, with men and women competing on the same teams and is played indoors on a hardwood court. Wheelchair Rugby is played in a manual wheelchair. The rules include detailed specifications for the wheelchair. Many players use custom-made sports wheelchairs that are specifically designed for wheelchair rugby. Key design features include a front bumper, designed to help strike and hold opposing wheelchairs, and wings, which are positioned in front of the main wheels to make the wheelchair more difficult to stop and hold.
All wheelchairs must be equipped with spoke protectors, to prevent damage to the wheels, and an anti-tip device at the back. The rules include elements of wheelchair basketball, ice hockey, and handball. It is a contact sport and physical contact between wheelchairs is an integral part of the game.
Players are classified according to their functional level and assigned a point value ranging from 0.5 (the lowest functional level) to 3.5 (the highest).
The total classification value of all players on the court for a team at one time cannot exceed eight points.
Wheelchair rugby classification is conducted by personnel with medical training, usually physicians, physiotherapists, or occupational therapists. Classifiers must also be trained in muscle testing and in the details of wheelchair rugby classification.
Athletes are permitted to appeal their classification if they feel they have not been properly evaluated. Athletes can be granted a permanent classification if they demonstrate a stable level of function over a series of classification tests.
Wheelchair Rugby Rules
A wheelchair rugby demonstration is just one of the many sponsored events and activities of Warrior Care Month (2015), which has the theme, Show of Strength. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua D. Sheppard).
- Wheelchair rugby is mostly played by two teams of up to twelve players. Four players from each team may be on the court at only one time. It is a mixed gender sport, and both male and female athletes play on the same teams.
- Wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a hardwood court of the same measurements as a regulation basketball court, 28 meters long by 15 meters wide. The required court markings are a center line and circle, and a key area measuring 8 meters wide by 1.75 meters deep at each end of the court.
- A player with possession of the ball must bounce or pass the ball within ten seconds.
- Teams have twelve seconds to advance the ball from their back court into the front court and a total of forty seconds to score a point or concede possession.
- The goal line is the section of the end line within the key. Each end of the goal line is marked with a cone-shaped pylon. Players score by carrying the ball across the goal line. For a goal to count, two wheels of the player's wheelchair must cross the line while the player has possession of the ball.
- A team is not allowed to have more than three players in their own key while they are defending their goal line. Offensive players are not permitted to remain in the opposing team's key for more than ten seconds.
- Physical contact between wheelchairs is permitted, and forms a major part of the game. However, physical contact between wheelchairs that is deemed dangerous, such as striking another player from behind, is not allowed. Direct physical contact between players is not permitted.
- Fouls are penalized by either a one-minute penalty, for defensive fouls and technical fouls, or a loss of possession, for offensive fouls. In some cases, a penalty goal may be awarded in lieu of a penalty. Common fouls include spinning (striking an opponent's wheelchair behind the main axle, causing it to spin horizontally or vertically), illegal use of hands or reaching in (striking an opponent with the arms or hands), and holding (holding or obstructing an opponent by grasping with the hands or arms, or falling onto them).
- Wheelchair rugby games consist of four eight-minute quarters. If the game is tied at the end of regulation play, three-minute overtime periods are played.
- Much like able-bodied rugby matches, highly competitive wheelchair rugby games are fluid and fast-moving, with possession switching back and forth between the teams while play continues. The game clock is stopped when a goal is scored, or in the event of a violation "such as the ball being played out of bounds or foul. Players may only be substituted during a stoppage in play.
Wheelchair Rugby League
Wheelchair rugby league is a version of wheelchair rugby based expressly on rugby league. It was developed by French rugby league player, coach and official, Robert Fassolette in 2004. The game shares many feature with regular rugby league:
- Use of a rugby ball.
- Ball may only be passed backwards.
- Each team retains possession for six tackles, after which there is a hand-over.
- A modified version of the play-the-ball is used after a tackle.
- Same offside rules as rugby league.