Wheelchair rugby

Wheelchair rugby (originally murderball, and known as quad rugby in the United States) is a team sport for athletes with a disability. It is practised in over twenty-five countries around the world and is a summer Paralympic sport.

The US name is based on the requirement that all wheelchair rugby players need to have disabilities that include at least some loss of function in at least three limbs. Although most have spinal cord injuries, players may also qualify through multiple amputations, neurological disorders or other medical conditions. Players are assigned a functional level in points, and each team is limited to fielding a team with a total of eight points.

Wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a hardwood court, and physical contact between wheelchairs is an integral part of the game. The rules include elements from wheelchair basketball, ice hockey, handball and rugby union.

The sport is governed by the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) which was established in 1993.

Wheelchair rugby game 2
Canada's Garett Hickling vs USA's Bryan Kirkland, at a wheelchair rugby game.


Wheelchair rugby was created to be a sport for persons with quadriplegia in 1976 by five Canadian wheelchair athletes, Jerry Terwin, Duncan Campbell, Randy Dueck, Paul LeJeune and Chris Sargent, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.[1] However, earlier organised games of wheel-chair rugby were played in Pembrey, near Llanelli, Wales as early as the 1960s. Photo of early game c1960's

At that time, wheelchair basketball was the most common team sport for wheelchair users. That sport's physical requirement for players to dribble and shoot baskets relegated quadriplegic athletes, with functional impairments to both their upper and lower limbs, to supporting roles. The new sport — originally called murderball due to its aggressive, full-contact nature — was designed to allow quadriplegic athletes with a wide range of functional ability levels to play integral offensive and defensive roles.

Murderball was first introduced into Australia in 1981. The Australian team competing in the Stoke Mandeville games in England were invited by the Canadians to select a team to play them in a demonstration game. After receiving limited instructions on the rules and skills of the game the "contest" began. Following a fast and very competitive exchange, Australia won. The game was then born and brought back to Australia where it has flourished.

Murderball was introduced to the United States in 1981 by Brad Mikkelsen. With the aid of the University of North Dakota's Disabled Student Services, he formed the first American team, the Wallbangers. The first North American competition was held in 1982.

In the late 1980s, the name of the sport outside the United States was officially changed from Murderball to Wheelchair Rugby. In the United States, the sport's name was changed to Quad Rugby.

The first international tournament was held in 1989 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with teams from Canada, the United States and Great Britain. In 1990, Wheelchair Rugby first appeared at the International Stoke Mandeville Games as an exhibition event,[2] and in 1993 the sport was recognized as an official international sport for athletes with a disability by the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation (ISMWSF). In the same year, the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) was established as a sports section of ISMWSF to govern the sport. The first IWRF World Wheelchair Rugby Championships were held in Nottwil, Switzerland, in 1995 and wheelchair rugby appeared as a demonstration sport at the 1996 Summer Paralympics in Atlanta.

The sport has had full medal status since the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, Australia and there are now twenty-five active countries in international competition, with several others developing the sport.


Wheelchair rugby court
Wheelchair rugby court

Wheelchair rugby is mostly played by two teams of up to twelve players. Only four players from each team may be on the court at any 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 metres long by 15 metres wide. The required court markings are a centre line and circle, and a key area measuring 8 metres wide by 1.75 metres deep at each end of the court.

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.

A player with possession of the ball must bounce or pass the ball within ten seconds.

A team's back court is the half of the court containing the goal they are defending; their front court is the half containing the goal they are attacking. 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.

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 a foul. Players may only be substituted during a stoppage in play.


The Boise Bombers Wheelchair Rugby Team pose following its third annual Toys For Tots match displaying a variety of gear (expand to view)

Wheelchair rugby is played in a manual wheelchair. The rules include detailed specifications for the wheelchair. 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.

New players and players in developing countries sometimes play in wheelchairs that have been adapted for wheelchair rugby by the addition of temporary bumpers and wings.

Wheelchair rugby uses a regulation volleyball typically of a 'soft-touch' design, with a slightly textured surface to provide a better grip. The balls are normally over-inflated compared to volleyball, to provide a better bounce. The official ball of the sport from 2013-2016 is the Molten soft-touch volleyball, model number WR58X.[3] Players use a variety of other personal equipment, such as gloves and applied adhesives to assist with ball handling due to their usually impaired gripping ability, and various forms of strapping to maintain a good seating position.


Wheelchair rugby classification
Wheelchair rugby classifier examining a new player

To be eligible to play wheelchair rugby, athletes must have some form of disability with a loss of function in both the upper and lower limbs.[4] 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–Barré syndrome, among other medical conditions.

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.

The classification process begins with an assessment of the athlete's level of disability to determine if the minimum eligibility requirements for wheelchair rugby are met. These require that an athlete have a neurological disability that involves at least three limbs, or a non-neurological disability that involves all four limbs. The athlete then completes a series of muscle tests designed to evaluate the strength and range of motion of the upper limbs and trunks. A classification can then be assigned to the athlete. Classification frequently includes subsequent observation of the athlete in competition to confirm that physical function in game situations reflects what was observed during muscle testing.

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 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.

Active countries

IWRF Countries
Countries playing wheelchair rugby

As of September 2015 there are twenty-eight active countries playing wheelchair rugby,[5] divided into three zones:

Zone number Area Country
1 The Americas Argentina
United States
2 Europe Austria
Czech Republic
Great Britain
3 Asia / Oceania Australia
New Zealand
South Korea
South Africa

International competitions

Wheelchair rugby game 1
World Wheelchair Rugby Championships 2002, Gothenburg Sweden

The major wheelchair rugby international competitions are Zone Championships, held in each odd-numbered year, and the World Championships held quadrennially in even-numbered years. Wheelchair rugby is also an included sport in regional events such as the Parapan American Games.[6]

Since 2000, it has been one of the sports of the Summer Paralympic Games.

Recent results
Year Event City Country 1st place 2nd place 3rd place
2016 Paralympic Games

[7] [8]

Rio de Janeiro Brazil Australia United States Japan
2015 Parapan Am Games[9] Toronto Canada Canada United States Colombia
2014 World Championship[10] Odense Denmark Australia Canada United States
2012 Paralympic Games London UK Australia Canada United States
2010 5th World Championship[11] Vancouver Canada United States Australia Japan
2009 1st Americas Zone Championship Buenos Aires Argentina United States Canada Argentina
Asia-Oceania Zone Championship Christchurch New Zealand Australia New Zealand Japan
7th European Zone Championship Hillerød Denmark Belgium Sweden Germany
2008 Paralympic Games Beijing China United States Australia Canada
2007 4th Oceania Zone Championship Sydney Australia Australia Canada New Zealand
6th European Zone Championship Espoo Finland Great Britain Germany Sweden
2006 4th World Championship[12] Christchurch New Zealand United States New Zealand Canada
2005 5th European Zone Championship Middelfart Denmark Great Britain Germany Sweden
3rd Oceania Zone Championship Johannesburg South Africa New Zealand Australia Japan
2004 Paralympic Games Athens Greece New Zealand Canada United States
2002 3rd World Championship Gothenburg Sweden Canada United States Australia
2000 Paralympic Games Sydney Australia United States Australia New Zealand
1998 2nd World Championship Toronto Canada United States New Zealand Canada
1996 Paralympic Games (demonstration) Atlanta United States United States Canada New Zealand
1995 1st World Championship Nottwil Switzerland United States Canada New Zealand

Popular culture

Wheelchair rugby was featured in the Oscar-nominated 2005 documentary Murderball. It was voted the #1 Top Sport Movie of all time by the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.[13]

The character Jason Street in the NBC television show Friday Night Lights, having been paralyzed in a game of American football in the pilot, tries out for the United States quad rugby team in a later episode.

See also


  1. ^ "History of Wheelchair Rugby", iwasf.com
  2. ^ "Rugby", europaralympic.org/
  3. ^ "Official IWRF Molten Wheelchair Rugby Balls", iwrf.com
  4. ^ International Wheelchair Rugby Federation. "About Wheelchair Rugby". Archived from the original on 2008-04-24. Retrieved 2008-04-25.
  5. ^ "International Wheelchair Rugby Federation : IWRF Rankings". International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF). Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  6. ^ TORONTO 2015 Parapan Am Games Footprint Announced
  7. ^ "2016 Paralympics Day 11 - Highlights". CNN. 2016-09-19. Retrieved 2016-09-23.
  8. ^ "Canadian wheelchair rugby team misses podium at 2016 Rio Paralympics". Comox Valley Record, Courtenay, British Columbia. 2016-09-18. Retrieved 2016-09-23.
  9. ^ Wheelchair Rugby - Schedule & Results
  10. ^ "2014 IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championship". 2014wrwc.dhif.dk. 2014-01-10. Retrieved 2015-11-09.
  11. ^ Kingston, Gary (26 September 2010). "U.S. wins 2010 wheelchair rugby title in Richmond". The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  12. ^ TVNZ, No title for Wheel Blacks, September 16, 2006. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  13. ^ [1] Archived October 5, 2013, at the Wayback Machine


External links

Andrew Harrison (wheelchair rugby)

Andrew Harrison, (born 7 June 1987) is a wheelchair rugby player. He has won gold medals at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Ben Newton (wheelchair rugby)

Ben Newton, (born 14 February 1988) is a wheelchair rugby player. He was selected to represent Australia at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in wheelchair rugby.

Brad Dubberley

Brad Dubberley (born 28 June 1981) is an Australian Paralympic wheelchair rugby Head Coach and former athlete. He won a silver medal as an athlete at the 2000 Sydney Games and as the head coach at the 2008 Beijing Games in the mixed wheelchair rugby event. He is the head coach of the Australian Wheelchair Rugby team known as the Australian Steelers.

Cameron Carr (wheelchair rugby)

Cameron Carr, is an Australian Paralympic wheelchair rugby player. He has won a silver medal at the 2008 Paralympics and gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics.

Chris Bond (wheelchair rugby)

Christopher Adam Bond, (born 28 May 1986) is an Australian wheelchair rugby player. He has won gold medals at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Cody Meakin

Cody Meakin, (born 27 December 1989) is a wheelchair rugby player. He was selected to represent Australia at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in wheelchair rugby.

Greg Smith (Paralympian)

Gregory Stephen "Greg" Smith, OAM (born 19 August 1967) is an Australian Paralympic athlete and wheelchair rugby player who won three gold medals in athletics at the 2000 Summer Paralympics, and a gold medal in wheelchair rugby at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, where he was the flag bearer at the opening ceremony.

IWRF European Championship

The IWRF European Championship or IWRF European Zone Championship is the name commonly used to refer to the European wheelchair rugby championships that take place every two years between national teams of the continents. The European Championship is also a qualifying tournament for the IWRF World Championships and the Paralympic Games.

The first European Championship was held in 1995.

Jason Lees

Jason Lees, is a wheelchair rugby player from Victoria and was a member of the Australian Steelers that won the gold medals at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympics. His partner is Melanie Josephs; they have one child.

Josh Hose

Joshua Anthony "Josh" Hose, (born 1 December 1986) is a wheelchair rugby player. He has won gold medals at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Matt Lewis (wheelchair rugby)

Matt Franklin Lewis (born 8 January 1987) is an Australian wheelchair rugby player. He won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympics as a member of the Australian Steelers.

Nazim Erdem

Nazim Erdem, (born 1 August 1970) is an Australian wheelchair rugby Paralympic gold and silver medalist. He has won two gold and two silver medals at five Paralympics from 2000 to 2016.

Ryan Scott (wheelchair rugby)

Ryan Scott, (born 3 March 1982) is a Paralympic wheelchair rugby competitor from Australia. In four Paralympics, Scott has won a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and gold medals at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Ryley Batt

Ryley Batt, (born 22 May 1989) is an Australian wheelchair rugby player. He has won two gold and a silver medal at four Paralympic Games.

Wheelchair rugby at the 2012 Summer Paralympics

Wheelchair rugby at the 2012 Summer Paralympics was held in the Basketball Arena, London from 5 September to 9 September. There was one event where 8 teams competed. Though a mixed gender event the vast majority of competitors at the games were male.

Wheelchair rugby at the 2016 Summer Paralympics

Wheelchair rugby at the 2016 Summer Paralympics will be held in the Rio Olympic Arena, also known as the Arena Carioca, from 14 September to 18 September 2016. There is a single event, for which both genders are eligible, where 8 teams compete.

Wheelchair rugby at the Summer Paralympics

Wheelchair rugby was first contested at the Summer Paralympics as a demonstration sport in 1996. It became an official medal-awarding sport in 2000 and has been competed at every Summer Paralympics since then. Only one event, mixed team, is held.

Wheelchair rugby league

Wheelchair rugby league is a wheelchair-based version of rugby league football. It was developed by French rugby league player, coach and official, Robert Fassolette and Wally Salvan in 2004. Unlike other wheelchair sports, people without disabilities are allowed to compete in top level competition.

World Wheelchair Rugby Championships

World Wheelchair Rugby Championships is an international wheelchair rugby competition contested by the national teams of the members of the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF), the sport's global governing body.

The first Wheelchair Rugby World Championships was held in Notwil, Switzerland in 1995.

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