Created as a sport for people with disabilities in 1977 by five Canadian wheelchair athletes, wheelchair rugby has come a long way with 36 members countries and has plans to expand to dozens more in the Asian region.
Singapore is the latest stop for the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF). Photo: Sport Singapore
Singapore is the latest stop for International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) and the Singapore Disability Sports Council, in collaboration with the ActiveSG Para (Disability) Sports department, intends to jointly launch the sport with them in the island-state.
Formerly known as murderball, it combines elements of basketball, ice hockey and rugby, and is the only wheelchair sport that is a contact sport.
“It is a game designed for people with spinal cord injuries who didn't have the functionality to play wheelchair basketball, that is they couldn’t throw a heavy ball up to the ring, so it was devised using a lighter ball,” said IWRF Vice President Rodney Holt.
Although the game was created for people with spinal cord injuries, participants can also qualify through multiple amputations, neurological disorders or other medical conditions.
Australia's head classifier for wheelchair rugby Katie Bourke, who was in town on Monday to screen and classify participants, said the sport gives people with disabilities a real world environment that is conducive and beneficial for physical rehabilitation.
Australia's head classifier Katie Bourke (right) gives a participant a physical examination during the Wheelchair Rugby Classification at Toa Payoh Sports Centre. Photo: Sport Singapore
“People think that rehabilitation is very hospital based; you learn in a hospital and you learn from therapists,” she said. “But when you come out and you're in a community, that's why you really start to learn how to do things.”
“When you come into an environment like this and you're in a group of peers, and you look at somebody else and think 'If he can do it, why can’t I do it?'. Then they learn from each other.”
“I have watched a guy back home who came out to his first competition in a transit chair. His mum had to push him because he couldn't push his own chair. He looked at the guys who were playing and went 'I can do that', and now he is one of the most independent guys.”
A participant in action duing the wheelchair rugby classification. Photo: Sport Singapore
“He travels independently around the world, so the difference it has made in his life has been absolutely enormous.”
For someone who has suddenly lost the ability to move about independently, the trauma can cause depression and this sport helps those people in psychological and social rehabilitation as much as it does in physical rehabilitation.
Holt said: “Suddenly when you introduce rugby where they are playing with people with the same issues as them. They are in a community, they start earning respect, and they get their physical fitness back, so as a form of rehabilitation it is very good.”