With over a million people tuning in to watch Great Britain’s Tokyo 2020 gold medal win, it’s safe to say wheelchair rugby is one of the big hits at the Paralympic Games and a fast-growing sport here in the UK. As one of the only full-contact disability sports, the collisions and drama make for a sport that’ll have you on the edge of your seat. Wheelchair rugby was originally nicknamed ‘murderball’ which gives you an idea of the intensity you can expect!
The Rules

The players
Each team has a maximum of 12 athletes with no more than four players from each team on the court at any one time. Teams are mixed so you’ll see men and women playing together on the same team, another unusual and fantastic thing about wheelchair rugby.

The ball
Unlike able-bodied rugby where you’ll be familiar with an oval ball, wheelchair rugby actually uses a spherical ball. The ball’s circumference must be 65-67 centimetres and its weight must be 260-280 grams.

To score a try, an athlete must cross the opposing team’s try line in firm control of the ball. Two wheels must cross the line for it to count.

Contact sport
Contact between wheelchairs is permitted. Hitting an opponent’s chair behind the rear wheel and making physical contact with an opponent results in penalisation, so it’s not quite ‘anything goes’.

40-second shot clock
The team with possession of the ball has 40 seconds to score a try. This time is measured by a countdown clock.

10-second dribble violation
A player who has possession of the ball must either pass or dribble the ball at least once every 10 seconds.

Playing time
Matches are played in four periods of eight minutes. There is a three-minute interval at the end of the first and third periods and a 10-minute interval at half time.

Wheelchair rugby was invented in Canada in 1977 by a group of wheelchair basketball players who were tired of losing out on court time to teammates with a lower degree of impairment. Their new sport was well-received and quickly grew in popularity and spread to the USA. In the early 1980s the USA team put on an exhibition match at Stoke Mandeville which inspired the creation of the UK’s first three clubs. There are now over 30 teams up and down the country. The sport made its global debut at the 1990 World Wheelchair Games and four years later became a full Paralympic sport at Sydney 2000, following a demonstration at the Games in Atlanta 1996. Great Britain have consistently competed with the world’s best teams, qualifying for every Paralympic Games and winning five gold medals at the Wheelchair Rugby European Championship. In 2021 at the postponed Tokyo 2020 Games, Great Britain took home their first Paralympic gold medal.