Some of the best rugby players on the planet are set to play this weekend for a Gold medal. Wheelchair Rugby, or Murderball as it is commonly known, makes its fourth official appearance in the Summer Paralympics. Wheelchair Rugby encompasses all the aspects that makes rugby so special: fierce competition, strength, quick thinking, and camaraderie. Just like able-bodied rugby players, these players bash each other to pieces during the match and then party after the match.
For those who aren’t familiar with Wheelchair Rugby, it’s played by athletes with spinal cord injuries. Athletes much have some loss of function in both the upper and lower limbs. This level of impairment can vary and can be caused by things such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, a broken neck, or some other medical condition. As in other Paralympic sports, there are varying degrees functional level ranging from 0.5 (lowest) to 3.5 (highest). Each team cannot exceed a total value of eight combined points.
There are two teams with twelve players each with only four players on the court at one time. A try is scored when the ball and two wheels cross the tryline. The contact happens when players ram each other or do other tactics in order to prevent the player from crossing the line. Typically the sport is played on a basketball court and will be played at the Basketball Arena. Additionally, Wheelchair Rugby is the only contact sport at the Games and is the only sport in which both men and women can compete at the same time.
Wheelchair Rugby rose to prominence with the 2006 movie Murderball, which featured the strong rivalry between the U.S. and Canada. Here, take a look:
One of the best parts of wheelchair rugby is the competitiveness between the teams. Just like with their able-body counterparts, these athletes are fierce competitors who never want to lose. The U.S. dominated the sport in its early stages winning the event in 1996 (demonstration sport), 2000, and 2008. New Zealand (who do a mean haka) won the event in 2004. Additionally, Australia, Canada, and Great Britain are all strong sides that have great athletes. This year’s games feature France, Great Britain, Japan, and the U.S. in Group A, and Australia, Belgium, Canada, and Sweden in Group B.
Another compelling aspect of this sport is the drive these players have. Many of these athletes were healthy young men or women that suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident. Rather than give up on their lives, they dug in deep and worked hard to become great athletes. Their drive and determination is an inspiration for all involved. Plus, if you thought a player like Sonny Bill had big biceps, you should see some of these players.
Still, the joy of Wheelchair Rugby is not focusing on the impairment of the players, but the skill they have playing the game. The way these athletes maneuver around the court, make smart passes, and ram into each other in a controlled fashion is extremely entertaining. Yet, these players do it well. As rugby fans, we should appreciate and focus on their skill just like we would any other rugby competition.
The tournament began today with Sweden vs. Belgium, Australia vs. Canada, the U.S. vs. Great Britain, and Japan vs. France. The Australia-Canada and U.S.-GB match should be very enjoyable to watch. The U.S. Paralympic website is webstreaming certain events at the games.
So, if you haven’t been paying attention to the Paralympics so far, now is your time. Plus, you get to enjoy some incredible rugby.
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