Wheelchair Rugby: The Stats Behind the Game
Fast, furious and undoubtedly fun, wheelchair rugby is now the world’s fastest growing wheelchair sport. So, what’s all the fuss about?
We caught up with the experts at Vesco Rugby Chairs to find out.
The name behind the game
If you’ve ever seen a game of wheelchair rugby, you’ll understand how it earnt its original title, “Murderball”. Tough, tactical and extremely intense, it’ll have you on the edge of your seat as participants crash, collide and occasionally even capsize. The Vesco team put this down to, “the combative style of play exhibited by competitive players pushing their limits and having fun.” This resembles ferocious warriors heading into battle, and reminds us that it’s a game for the fearless, not the fainthearted.
It’s no wonder then, that when wheelchair rugby became a Paralympic sport in 2000, it went straight to the top as the biggest crowd puller and fastest selling ticket. But the game has been around much longer than that.
Ball brings people together
“Murderball” was created by Canadian wheelchair athletes in the ’70s and aimed at people with quadriplegia (paralysis that affects all four limbs) who were physically unable to participate in wheelchair basketball. Despite these physical limitations, wheelchair rugby is the Paralympics’ only full-contact sport – and that’s what makes it so thrilling to watch.
As a game of inclusivity and diversity, it’s not just the skills (or the thrills) that bring audiences flocking. Wheelchair rugby creates a strong sense of community amongst its players and it’s inspiring to watch. Teams are made up of mixed gender, disability and age. But despite their differences, players learn from and respect each other. What makes them different is ultimately what binds them together, in what Vesco call, “a team structure where people are invested in each other.”
Built for battle
Rugby chairs are designed to withstand a high level of contact and impact. As a result, they are heavy duty, robust vehicles, usually weighing between 10kg and 20kg. The Vesco team tell us that “weight really varies based on the player, as each chair is custom made to the individual.”
There are two types of rugby chair, depending on functionality of the player:
Offensive wheelchairs are set up for speed and mobility and contain a front bumper and wings to prevent other wheelchairs from hooking it. These chairs are used by players with more function.
- Defensive wheelchairs contain bumpers set up to hook and hold other players. These wheelchairs are most often used by players with less function.
These intricate details require a certain level of engineering genius, as the chairs need to be strong yet agile. As a result, rugby chairs come with a price tag starting at around £2,000 for a brand new one, but will vary greatly depending on the options chosen. Vesco sponsor top level athletes, so their products are tailor-made and built to last with “heat treated” frames. Their aim? “To achieve Rugby Chair Nirvana,” say the team.
Rugby’s distant relative
Wheelchair rugby isn’t as close to its older brother, rugby, as you may think. They’re more like distant relatives that hold the same scoring system, which involves carrying the ball over a line.
At first glance, you may not even realise that they’re related at all, as wheelchair rugby is played on a basketball sized indoor court with what looks like a volleyball. Vesco describe the game as, “a cross between ice hockey and basketball with, really, no comparison to an able bodied sport.”
The matches are made up of 8 minute quarters, with a game time of 32 minutes and short break in-between. In this time, players will travel an average of 1.4 miles around the court. That’s the equivalent of doing the length of the court 78 times over – on wheels!
Speed, strength and strategy
The average speed of a wheelchair on the court comes in at just above 2.6mph – the equivalent of a brisk walk. Rugby chairs can reach peak speeds of approximately 4 meters per second (9mph), which is faster than your typical running pace. Now, imagine 8 players on the court in 20kg wheelchairs travelling at this speed. Absolute chaos in the best possible way.
In track events, where the aim of the game is purely speed, the fastest wheelchair athletes can travel at 8 meters per second (17.9mph). This is aided by the design of the chair, which is more nimble and lightweight than a rugby chair.
But it’s not just about speed. According to the Vesco team, “Skill comes in many levels in adaptive sports. A competitive attitude, mind for strategy, tenacious work ethic, and big heart can take you along way.”
Rugby chairs have at least four wheels and sometimes a fifth for extra stability. “The two large wheels, officially called main wheels, come in three sizes,” says the Vesco team, “24, 25, and 26 inches.” This means that 26 inch (66cm) wheels will turn, on average, 1,056 times during a game of wheelchair rugby. That’s a whole lot of core strength, endurance and fitness that’s required during the 32 minutes of gameplay.
The power of sport
Wheelchair rugby is a great way to get fit, have fun and meet new people – no matter what your age, disability or gender. Few sports embody inclusivity and promote equality to this extent. Despite the sinister name, “Murderball” has an incredible capacity to bring people together and teach invaluable life skills. So, in the words of Vesco, “Give it a try. There’s nothing quite like it.”
Wheelchair rugby rules
- The game is played with a standard volleyball, on a regulation hardwood basketball court that is marked by boundary lines, a center line, a centre circle and two key areas.
- A team consists of up to 12 players. Teams are mixed; men and women can play on the same team. All players must have functional impairment in at least three limbs.
- To ensure fairness, all players have a classification (a measure of their functional physical ability), which ranges from 0.5 (least function) to 3.5 (most function). Players with different classifications play different roles on the court.
- Each team fields four players at one time. These players must add up to 8.0 classification points per team.
- The game consists of four eight-minute quarters. There is a two-minute break after the first and third quarters and a five-minute break at halftime.
- A goal is scored when a player carries the ball across the opposing team’s goal line. Two wheels of the player’s wheelchair must cross the line and the player must be in possession of the ball.
- After a goal or stoppage of play, the player has 10 seconds to inbound the ball.
- Each team has four time-outs of 30 seconds each, which may be used during the four quarters of regulation play and may be called by players on the floor, and two one-minute bench time outs that can be called by the coach.
- If the score is tied, an overtime period of three minutes will be played. Additional overtime periods can be played until one team wins.