In 1977, a group of people with quadriplegia in the city of Winnipeg, Canada, were looking for a sport to play, given that their motor injuries left them at a disadvantage in Wheelchair Basketball. As a result, they created Wheelchair Rugby – first called Murderball, although the violent nature of the name led to it being changed.
The first international tournament took place in 1982, the participation of teams from both Canada and the United States. Eight years later, the sport was demonstrated at the World Wheelchair Games. In 1993, it was recognised as a sport for people with physical disabilities, and the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) was founded.
Wheelchair Rugby joined the Paralympic programme in 1996 as an exhibition sport, and at the Sydney Games of 2000 it was played for medals. The competitions are mixed, with both men and women on the same team.
The discipline is played by people with spinal cord injuries characterised as quadriplegia, cerebral palsy, amputations or deformities involving both legs and both arms, and polio injuries, among other disabilities.
Players are divided into seven categories according to their functional ability, on a scale from 0.5 to 3.5 (the higher the category, the greater the functional potential). Each team may only have two members on the court at the same time, and the sum of their scores may not exceed eight, to keep matches balanced.
Wheelchair Rugby is played on a Basketball court, and the ball is similar to that used in Volleyball. Matches have two quarters each lasting eight minutes. The clock is stopped each time the ball leaves the court and when there are fouls.
Athletes may move the ball on their thighs, bounce it or pass it. Each player may keep the ball for indefinite time, but has to bounce it at least once every 10 seconds. The team in possession of the ball may not take more than 12 seconds to enter the opponent’s side, and has 40 seconds to score a goal – the aim of this rule is to make the sport more dynamic.
The objective of Wheelchair Rugby is to score goals between two vertical cones at each end of the court. For a goal to be valid, it is necessary to cross the opponents’ line with both wheels of the wheelchair.
As this sport’s rules allow for a high degree of contact among players, for tactical and safety reasons there are different attack and defence wheelchairs: the first have a front “bumper” and “wings” so that they do not get stuck amid moves, while the second have an accessory at the front to prevent their rivals from advancing.