Mar 1, 2017


One could imagine rugby is too much of a physical game, for disabled people to practice. Well, it's the same for kids, and they love it. Disabled people are not flowers and, with the right posture facing life, they can be perfectly fitted people to practice any sport in the world. And rugby is not an exception.

Ok. It can look dangerous, it can look damaging, it can even look fit for crazy people. But let's ask: how can one tell a disabled person they can't do something, due to the incapability? And another question: is it fair to place such a question?

Rugby is not an exclusive sport for non-disabled athletes. It is a robust game, very physical, with very clear rules, for male and female wheelchair users. And some formats of the game require that all players are quadriplegic, while other formats call for impairment of at least three limbs.

To each individual players is assigned a classification, reflecting the impairment degree of the player. The teams have a point limit, which means they have to be composed up with players with a variety of classifications in order to qualify for a match.

Originally, the game was known as murderball, or quad rugby, in the United States. Wheelchair rugby includes many able-bodied rugby aspects, and also elements of basketball and handball; sports in which men and women use manual wheelchairs, played in a hardwood court, and they can compete together in the same team.

The aim of the players is to carry the ball across the line of their opponents. Don't be mistaken: when necessary, using brute force! Physical contact between players, however, is not allowed. Instead, the players use their wheelchairs to block opposing players. Once again: you will find your perception of disabled people challenged, as this is a rough and tough sport, and there is no time for playing it gently.

For starters, the sport can be played in a regular wheelchair, but as you look at any pictures or catalogues for special wheelchairs, you will find they are very different. Professional wheelchairs are lightweight, easier to manoeuvre and much quicker. Also, the back wheels are open wide for a better grip and stability on the hardwood floor.

The ball is similar to a volleyball, even though there are cases in which the ball is pretty much as any other rugby ball. It all depends on the level of the players. The court is a regular basketball court. Hardwood surface, with sidelines, baselines, mid-court line, a centre circle and two goal areas clearly marked.

The teams are made up of four players, but they can be composed up to 12 players. The matches are played in four quarters, eight minutes each, with a two to five minutes break between them.

The goals are scored each time an athlete has a firm control of the ball and crosses the goal line with two of the four wheels.

Contact between the wheelchairs is a key part of the game. Hitting an opposing chair behind its rear wheels, however, can cause it to rotate, and that a penalty. As it is direct physical contact with an opposing player. These penalties can cause a one-minute penalty or even disqualification of the match.

And there are limits to the time a single athlete can hold on to a ball: 10 seconds, after which, the referee will hand possession to the other team. Once the ball gained, the team has 40 seconds to score a goal.

The teams can call for 30 seconds time outs, and the managers, can call for one-minute time outs.

If there is a tie at the end of the four periods, an extra three minutes overtime is played. And overtime periods will be played, again with two to five minutes break, until one team wins.

Wheelchair rugby was invented in Canada in 1977, as a way of getting quadriplegic athletes involved in sport. From Canada, it spread to the United States and it is now a Paralympic sport, played in 26 countries.

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