In Winnipeg, Canada, in 1977, a group of people with quadriplegia 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 – originally called "murderball" due to the aggressive, full-contact nature of the game.
The first international tournament took place in 1982 with participating teams from both Canada and the United States. Eight years later, the sport was demonstrated at the World Wheelchair Games. In 1993, it was officially 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 it was first played for medals at the Sydney Games in 2000. The competitions are mixed gender, with both men and women on the same team.
The discipline is played by people with a variety injuries and conditions, including muscle weakness and limb deficiencies, which impact on at least three of their limbs.
Players are divided into seven different sport classes on a scale from 0.5 to 3.5 according to their level of impairment, with players in the 0.5 class showing the highest degree of limitation. Players in different sport classes are assigned different roles within the team (blockers or ball handlers) to make the most of each individual's abilities.
Teams are made up of twelve members and no more than four players from each team may be on the court at one time. To keep the teams balanced, the sum of the classification points of a team’s players on the court must be 8 or less, unless there is a female player on court, in which case the team is allowed an extra 0.5.
Wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a regulation-size basketball court and the ball is similar to that used in volleyball. Matches consist of four eight-minute quarters. The clock is stopped each time the ball leaves the court or when a foul occurs.
The objective of wheelchair rugby is to cross the opposing team’s goal line in firm control of the ball, thereby scoring a goal. For a goal to be valid, two wheels must cross the goalline.
Athletes may carry the ball on their thighs, dribble or pass. Each player may hold the ball for indefinite period of time, but the ball must at least bounce once every 10 seconds. The team in possession of the ball must move the ball into their opponent's side of the court within 12 seconds of taking possession, and they have 40 seconds to score a goal – the aim of this rule is to make the sport more dynamic.
As the rules allow for a high degree of contact among players, for tactical and safety reasons light-weight sport wheelchairs are used which may be modified to include anti-tip devices, bumpers and wings.