Wheelchair Rugby

A contradiction in terms……? No….. a fast growing, fast moving, exciting sport that is played by quadriplegics and other crazy people with severe disabilities. It is played on a court similar to a basketball court, using a volleyball, with four members from each team in the field of play at one time. It is a full contact sport and the athletes are strapped firmly into their chairs to prevent them from loosing balance, and to keep them in their chairs when they get knocked over.

In South Africa, a few enthusiastic quads, lead by Jakkie Pieters, started playing in 1997. In 1998 SASAPD sent a team over to the World Wheelchair Games at Stoke Mandeville in the UK. Here our athletes were taught the correct way of playing the game, and when they got home the infection set in. Very quickly four clubs sprang up in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

One of the major difficulties faced in moving the sport up to a higher level, was the distance factor. Each club was so isolated that it was difficult to get much opportunity for competition. To combat this, a national league was set up at the beginning of 2004. This started with four tournaments each year, each taking place in a different province. This ignited a new enthusiasm into wheelchair rugby and most of the clubs started to see significant growth, and a new club opened in East London. The league has now grown to 10 fixtures this year with eight teams taking part. A National Championships will be held in September.

Although our progress on the World Ranking list has been slow, we are presently the fastest developing country in the Oceania zone, in terms of numbers of new athletes starting to participate in the sport, as well as numbers of internationally qualified officials. We are also the first country to have a junior team. We hosted the Oceania Zone Championships in November 2005, and this was the first wheelchair rugby tournament ever to have the final game screened live on national television – and what a final it was!

Rules

Definition:

Wheelchair rugby is a team sport for male and female athletes with severe disabilities. The aim is to score goals by crossing the opposing team’s goal line while in possession of the ball. The ball may be passed, thrown, batted, rolled, dribbled or carried in any direction subject to the restrictions laid down in the rules. The team scoring the most goals by the end of the game is declared the winner. It is a tactical game where teamwork is the key to winning.

Who can play?

Athletes must meet minimal eligibility criteria to play the sport of wheelchair rugby. Competitors with non-neurological conditions (e.g. amputations) may be eligible to play wheelchair rugby if they demonstrate functional limitations in the trunk and in all four extremities and they are deemed eligible following the classification tests.

Athletes with neurological conditions (e.g. spinal cord injuries) may be eligible to play wheelchair rugby if they demonstrate functional limitations in both the trunk and three or four extremities and they are deemed eligible following the classification tests.

Classification:

Classification is an integral part of sport for persons with disabilities. The purpose of classification is to ensure fair and equitable competition at all levels of sport and to allow athletes to compete at the highest level, regardless of individual differences in physical function. All athletes must be classified where the classifiers test the athlete’s strength, balance, movement and functional skills. From this each athlete is given a point. The classes range in increments of half points, from 0.5 for the weakest athletes to 3.5 for the strongest athletes. The sum of these points may not be greater than 8 for the four athletes on the court. This forces the teams to use the athletes with less function.

Wheelchairs:

The wheelchairs are designed for comfort and safety as well as allowing the individual maximum functionality. There are strict rules regarding the design of the chair to which they have to comply.

All chairs must be fitted with anti-tip wheels to prevent the athlete from falling over backwards.

The wheelchair may be fitted with a bumper, which provides a certain amount of protection as well as a means of “picking” an opposing chair.High pointer chair:

The higher point players are the attacking players, and therefore the wheelchairs need to be as fast and maneuverable as possible. These chairs are short and designed to deflect off the defender's chairs, so that it is difficult to “pick” them. Low pointer chair:

The low pointer players are the defensive players. Their role is to block the faster players, particularly in the key, as well as to be able to hold the high point players (picking) and thus keep them away from the play for as long as possible. It is also their role to assist their teammates if they are being “picked” by one of the opposing team.

With this in mind, the chair needs to be as long as possible, fairly wide without compromising maneuverability, with as much "hook-ability / pick-ability" as possible. This is usually achieved with a bumper designed to hold a high pointer player.

Benefit to athletes:

On a physical level, the athlete’s physical strength and endurance improve. Each bit of strength that is gained allows them to become more functional and independent. Their balance is continually being tested, and as a result they gain confidence in their compensatory abilities. This makes transfers and pushing their wheelchair easier.

The contact that they have with other disabled people with similar disabilities is possibly one of the most important benefits. They watch each other, and discuss methods and options, and they learn trick movements from each other. The psychological benefits are enormous, the team involvement, the competition and the outlet for frustration.

The importance of this can be seen in this statement made by a new athlete who had been in a wheelchair for eight years, but had only recently started playing wheelchair rugby. “For the first time since I have had my accident, I feel like a person again. It is wonderful to take out all my frustrations on court, to be able to crash into the other players, and to be physically exhausted at the end of the day. It is so long since I last felt that, and it feels so good.”

Many athletes have got out of electric wheelchairs to start playing this sport. As they get stronger, the electric chairs get thrown away as they realise that the advantages of using a manual chair far outweighed the advantages of the power chair.

For a person who has been recently injured, wheelchair rugby is one of the best methods of rehabilitation as it puts them into an environment with positive gains and achievements.

For more information contact:

SA WCR Clubs & Convenors
Teams Area Contact Mobile

Mandeville Lions

Gauteng Central

Clyde Holland

082 804 5391

Eagles

Western Province

Tohier Abrahams

073 153 0094

Rattlers

Central Zone

Etienne Gerber

083 629 2117

Tukkies

Gauteng North

Ronell Meintjies

083 279 7593

Filadelfia

Gauteng North

Isaac Shadung

082 785 4849

Border Bullfrogs

Eastern Cape

Peter Truter

082 923 4772

Warriors

Natal

Milton Marnies

084 440 0043

Hurricanes

Western Province

Billy Giessenburg

083 288 9038

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