Paralympics: What are the rules of wheelchair rugby?

Australia edged out the United States to claim gold at the last Paralympics in Rio five years ago

Jack Rathborn
Friday 27 August 2021 10:12
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Wheelchair rugby is set to take centre stage at the Tokyo Paralympics as one of the most unique sports on offer.

The Yoyogi National Stadium will host the games with eight nations split into two groups, with games running from 25-29 August,

Defending champions Australia, who beat the United States at Rio 2016 to win gold, are joined by Japan, Denmark and France in Group A.

While Team USA will hope to upgrade their silver medal and start in Group B alongside New Zealand, Great Britain and Canada.

The top two from each group will advance to the semi-finals, with the two winners advancing to the gold medal match and the losers facing off to win bronze.

Originally known as ‘murderball’, the sport is played in an aggressive and committed fashion, making it one of the most entertaining sports at Tokyo 2020.

Players display speed with full chair contact and hard hits common, while skill is married with physical determination in pursuit of victory.

A basketball court or sports hall can be used to play the sport with two ‘key areas’ are added.

Two cones at each end of the court signal the try line at the back of the key area, with a try awarded when a player has firm control of the ball and carries it over the opposition’s line with both wheels crossing.

Games last 32 minutes, with eight-minute quarters, with a two-minute break at the end of the first and third quarters, plus a five-minute break at half-time. Though do expect a full game to last almost two hours when you include in-game stoppages, breaks and timeouts.

Teams have 12 seconds to advance the ball past the halfway line, with a total of 40 seconds permitted to score a try before the ball is turned over and awarded to the opposition in the event no try is scored in the allocated time.

Players have 10 seconds to inbound the ball following a goal or a stoppage in play. While no player on the team in possession is permitted inside the opposing team’s key area for more than 10 seconds.

And the player in possession of the ball is tasked with dribbling or passing the ball at least once every 10 seconds.

To encourage more aggressive play, the defending team is not permitted to have more than three players inside their key area.

Players can make contact chair to chair, but it is forbidden to make contact from person to chair or person to person, while hits are banned on an opposing player’s chair behind its rear wheels to cause it to rotate.

These infractions lead to fouls and the possibility of a one-minute penalty or even disqualification from the match.

Overtime period is played in the event of a tie, with each OT timed at three minutes. Should the match still not be settled after said time, then additional overtime periods are played until a winner emerges.

There are four 30-second time-outs, with players on the floor able to call them, and two one-minute time-outs, which can be used by those from the bench.

Teams are allowed 12 players and only four players per side make it onto the court at any one time.

The makeup of each team is dependent on a classification system, determined by physical functionality and strength.

Players are awarded a classification designation from 0.5 (the least function) to 3.5 (the most function), and a team cannot exceed 8 points on the court at any one time.

The maximum classification eligible to play is 3.5. Both men and women play wheelchair rugby on the same teams and in the same competitions.

For every female player on the court, the team is allowed an additional 0.5 points to their allocation.

Players must have an impairment which affects their arms and legs to be eligible to play wheelchair basketball, including spinal cord injuries with full or partial paralysis of legs and partial paralysis of arms.

Players have other impairments including cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations, polio and other neurological conditions.

The wheelchairs used for the sport are specially designed to be able to absorb the hits and crashes seen during games.

The chairs are usually designed specifically for offensive players, which have a more rounded front with extra speed and agility in mind, or defensive players, with the chairs designed to be able to stop opponents scoring by 'picking' or holding them.

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