Wheelchair or “quad” rugby is an aggressive, full-contact sport that often lives up to its nickname: murderball. It’s one of the roughest, most competitive, and most injury-inducing sports in the Games.
Rugby is a blend of wheelchair basketball, handball, ice hockey, and rugby. It’s played on a regulation hardwood basketball court, with customized, “armored” wheelchairs built for hard hits – players slam, ram and knock each other over as part of the game.
The rules for rugby are very specific: points are scored only if a player crosses the other team’s goal line while the chair has both wheels on the floor and he has control of the ball. Players also must pass or bounce the ball every 10 seconds.
Teams have four players on the court at a time, and those players are classified by their functional ability or disability. Players are shuttled on and off the floor in an intricate strategy that can be key to winning and losing.
Wheelchair rugby is co-ed but mostly played by men. In 2008 only three women participated in all the rugby events. The game has four 8-minute periods, and is available to all quadriplegic athletes with spinal injuries, stroke, cerebral palsy, and limb loss.
• Team USA is looking to keep their crown in 2012: they won gold in 2000 and 2008.
• Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US have battled for medals since wheelchair rugby joined the Paralympics.
Paralympics 2012 Competition: Sept. 5 – Sept. 9
Wheelchair rugby was invented as an alternative to basketball for players with limited arm and hand functions. In rugby, athletes must have disabilities that affect three or four arms and legs; this is why rugby is sometimes called “quad rugby.” To be eligible to play, however, athletes must be capable of propelling a manual wheelchair with their arms.
Athletes are grouped by their ability to maneuver, hold the ball, and shoot. Numbers start at 0.5, identifying athletes with limited functions, and go up to 3.5 for athletes with greater functionality on the court.
An important part of rugby strategy is total team points on the floor: the four active players must total no more than 8 points. This means that if an athlete with a higher rating is inserted into play, another with lower points may also need to replace a teammate.