Rugby on Wheels – These guys make it possible!!

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No, it is not the Springbok tour bus. It is Wheelchair Rugby, also known as Murderball.

At the mention of Wheelchair Rugby the reactions are usually along the line of: “What?!” “How?” “Really?” and “That is so cool”.

A very dear friend of mine introduced me to this great sport. I would now like to introduce you to Wheelchair Rugby and answer all these questions of What, How, Who and Really?

Wheelchair rugby Paralympics

(Wheelchair Rugby at Paralympics)

One must remember that the group of individuals that practice this code of Rugby is just as passionate about the sport as the guy with horns on his head or the boy that is running out on the field for the first time. They love rugby and this is their way of staying active and involved in the sport.


Wheelchair Rugby was invented in 1977 by a group of Canadian quadriplegics who were looking for an alternative to Wheelchair Basketball. They wanted players with reduced arm and hand functionality to compete equally. They created Murderball, known today as Wheelchair Rugby.

In 1993, after years of exhibitions and tournaments, mainly in the USA, Canada and Britain the sport was finally recognised as an official international sport for athletes with disabilities. At the time there were 15 countries actively participating in the sport. Today 32 countries are actively participating in the sport of Wheelchair Rugby.

At the 2000 Paralympic games in Sydney, Australia, Wheelchair rugby made its first appearance as a full medal event. It has since made appearances at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Paralympics and is also set for the 2012 London games.

The sport combines elements of rugby, basketball and ice hockey, and is played by both male and female quadriplegics. The object of the game is to carry the ball over the opposition’s goal line. For a goal to count the carrier must be in firm control of the ball and two wheels must cross the goal line. One point is awarded for each goal scored. There are up to 12 players per team but only four are allowed on court at any given moment. Substitutions may be used as long as class value does not exceed 8.0(explained later on).

Facilities and equipment

Wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a regulation sized basketball court. Any facility used for Wheelchair Basketball is suitable for Wheelchair Rugby.

Players compete in manually propelled wheelchairs with detailed specifications to ensure safety and fairness. Specifications include protection around the legs, specific wheels and fastening of players to chairs.

The ball used is a soft covered ball, very similar in size and shape to that of a volleyball.


Individuals who want to compete must have disabilities in both the arms and legs. All players go through a classification process where levels of functionality are assessed. The player is then given a Class value. Values range from 0.5(players with the lowest function of arms/hands) to 3.5(players with the most function of arms/hands). At any given time of the match, the total value of the four players on court may not exceed 8.0 class points.

Players must at all times be able to propel their own wheelchairs.

The majority of Wheelchair Rugby players have spinal cord injuries which have resulted in full or partial paralysis of the legs and partial paralysis of the arms. Other disability groups who are represented include polio, cerebral palsy, some forms of muscular dystrophy, dysmelia, amputations, and other neurological conditions such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome.


The basic rules* of Wheelchair Rugby are:

➢ Four players on court per team. Subs allowed.
➢ A game is played in four quarters of 8minutes each. Each time a goal is scored, ball goes out of bound or referee blows his whistle for an infringement, the clock stops. A game can last anything between 60 to 90 minutes.
➢ Each team receives four time-outs per game.
➢ One point is scored when a player in possession of the ball crosses the oppositions goal line with two or more wheels.
➢ Every 10 seconds the player in possession of the ball must pass or dribble. Failing to do so will result in a turnover.
➢ A turnover is awarded if a team fails to advance out of their own half within 15 seconds.
➢ If a team fails to score within 40 seconds of the ball being in bound, they forfeit possession.
➢ Although it is a contact sport, no physical contact is allowed between players. Penalties are awarded and players may be sent to the penalty box for a period of time.

*The full set of rules can be downloaded from

During the few next weeks I will focus more on South African teams, players, coaches and structures. I will also focus on world rankings, tournaments and explain the equipment in further detail. So be on the look out for our next insert of Rugby on Wheels.

Wheelchair SA

(Two South African teams battling it out in Pretoria)

Special thanks to the following people who helped with all the questions I had:
Yvette vd Westhuizen – TUKS manager.
Jaco Dorfling – National coach.
Koos Jacobs – Avid player and also the friend who introduced me to the sport.

You can find extra info about the sport on these official websites:

[Article by James Loretz for][]

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