Rules of Wheelchair Rugby

Introduction

Wheelchair Rugby was developed in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1976, as a quadriplegic equivalent to wheelchair basketball. 

Wheelchair rugby is an intense, physical team sport for male and female athletes with quadriplegia (tetraplegia). 

The sport was originally called “Murderball” due to the aggressive nature of the game. It is a contact sport where collisions between wheelchairs form a major part of the game. 

Each team has four players on court and the aim is to score by carrying the ball across the goal line. 

Australia is currently ranked no. 2 in the world by the International Rugby Federation, but not for long!

How to Play

Wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a hard floor court with the same measurements as a basketball court (28 metres long by 15 metres wide). 

The aim is to score goals by crossing the opposing team’s goal line while in possession of the ball. The goal line is situated on the base line of the court and is 8 metres wide. In order for the goal to be counted two wheels of the wheelchair must be across the goal line. 

A volleyball is used and may be passed, thrown, battled, rolled, dribbled, or carried in any direction subject to the restrictions laid down in the rules. Kicking the ball is not allowed. 

When a player is in possession of the ball, it must be bounced at least once every 10 seconds.

Wheelchair rugby is played in eight-minute quarters.

Basic Rules of Wheelchair Rugby

Wheelchair Rugby is a fast-paced, full contact team sport for athletes with spinal cord injuries of the cervical spine, or those who have a condition affecting movement in the trunk, legs and at least one upper limb.

The game is played on a regulation 28 x 15m basketball court. The two key areas are located at the end lines. The goal lines are 8m apart and marked by cones. A team consists of up to 12 players. 4 players per team are allowed on court at any one time, with the maximum on classification points totalling 8.0.

A player from each team enters the centre circle. The referee tosses the ball into the air and the players try to tip it towards a team-mate. The game clock begins the moment the ball is touched by a player.

A goal is scored when two wheels of the player’s wheelchair cross the goal line. The player must have possession and be in control of the ball at the time. A team has 40 seconds to score once the ball goes into play. So watch the game clock and get ready for some action!

Each team has 4 x player time-outs and 2 x coach time-outs. Either team may call for a time-out when the ball is dead. When the ball is in play, only the team with possession can call it. If a time-out is called due to equipment malfunction, the affected team has one minute to correct the problem. Otherwise they must either substitute the player or waste another of their time-outs.

The game is supervised by 2 x referees, assisted by 4 x table officials - a scorekeeper, a timekeeper, a 40s operator and a penalty timekeeper. The Technical Commissioner supervises the table officials and assists in deciding the outcomes of any protests.

  • Players with the ball are not permitted to touch the floor with any part of his body or wheelchair (except for wheels and anti-tip device).
  • A player must dribble or pass the ball at least once every 10 seconds.
  • If your team has the ball, you cannot remain in the opposition’s key area for more than 10 seconds.
  • If you get control of the ball in your back court area, your team has 12 seconds to advance the ball to your front court. The ball cannot return to your back court (the exception being if the opposition touches the ball).
  • The ball must stay in-bounds. A player is determined if he is in-bounds by his 4 wheels.

These are some of the fouls that a referee may call during a game: Charging Foul, Four-in-the-Key Foul, Leaving the Court, Holding Foul, Pushing Foul, Contact-Before-Whistle, Out-and-In Foul, Illegal-Use-of-Hands, Spinning Foul and other Technical Fouls. Offending players could lose possession of the ball, serve time in the penalty box or even be disqualified.

Click here to download the 2015 International Rules for the Sport of Wheelchair Rugby from International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) that is used at national/international events.

Who Can Play Wheelchair Rugby?

Impairment Type

To be eligible to play Wheelchair Rugby, individuals must have a disability which affects the arms and legs. Most players have spinal cord injuries with full or partial paralysis of the legs and partial paralysis of the arms. Other disability groups who play include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations, polio, and other neurological conditions. Men and women compete on the same teams and in the same competitions.

Classification

Every wheelchair rugby player is classified based on their disability and undergo a bench test and functional skills test. Each player is given a points value after these tests which will range from 0.5 (lowest) to 3.5 (highest). The four players on court for a wheelchair rugby team must not exceed a total of 8 points. 
The following is a very basic description of the functionality of players in each class level and what the role would be in a wheelchair rugby team.

For more information about classification of Wheelchair Rugby please visit A Laypersons Guide to Wheelchair Rugby

The following is a very basic description of the functionality of players in each class level and what the role would be in a wheelchair rugby team. Credit: IWRF Website

Class 0.5
Typical role on court Main role is as blocker, not a major ball handler
Chair skills/function
  • Because of extensive proximal shoulder weakness and lack of triceps function forward head bob present when pushing

  • Because of lack of triceps, pulls on back part of the wheel for push stroke using biceps by bending elbows; elbows are also out to side when pushing (called an “unopposed biceps push”)

  • Because of wrist extensor weakness and lack of other wrist and hand function, may use forearm on wheel for starts, turns and stops
Ball skills/function
  • Because of proximal shoulder weakness, arm and wrist weakness, traps direct passes on lap or bats it in from limited range

  • Bats ball using “underhand volleyball pass” for longer range pass or for shorter range pass uses “scoop pass” with the ball forward to the side uses a two-hand toss
Class 1.0
Typical role on court Blocker, may in-bound ball, not a major ball handler
Chair skills/function
  • Because of proximal shoulder weakness and triceps weakness, may have slight head bob when pushing, but has a longer push on wheel (combination of push and pull on back part of wheel)

  • Because of increased strength in upper chest and shoulders, multidirectional start, stop and turn (Can turn in all directions without stopping; easier and faster turning than 0.5 athlete; but because of triceps and wrist weakness, 1.0 athlete may still use forearm)
Ball skills/function
  • Forearm or wrist catch

  • Weak chest pass or forearm pass
Class 1.5
Typical role on court Excellent blocker and also may be occasional ball handler
Chair skills/function Increased shoulder strength and stability allows for more effective and efficient pushing ball handling skills
Ball skills/function
  • Increased shoulder strength and stability allows for some distance and consistency to chest pass

  • Typically has wrist imbalance that causes limited ball security when passing

  • May have asymmetry present in arms. If so, predominantly uses the stronger arm for chair and ball skills
Class 2.0
Typical role on court Increasing role on court as ball handler
Chair skills/function Typically has very strong and stable shoulder that allows for good pushing speed on court
Ball skills/function
  • Effective chest pass with control over moderate distance

  • Because of lack of finger flexion, there is limited ball security against defense during passing

  • Can hold the ball with wrists firmly, but does not have hand function
Class 2.5
Typical role on court Ball handler and fairly fast playmaker
Chair skills/function
  • Because of excellent shoulder strength and stability will see good pushing speed on court

  • Functional grip is used to advantage on the pushrim when challenged

  • May have some trunk control giving better stability in the chair
Ball skills/function
  • Reasonably balanced finger flexion and extension without true grasp and release

  • Dribbles the ball safely, but supinates forearm to scoop the ball onto the lap

  • Due to finger flexion strength capable of performing one-handed overhead pass, but limited accuracy and distance because of imbalance in finger strength

  • Safe two handed catching of passes, usually scooping ball to lap. May catch passes single handed and scoop to lap or chest

  • Improved ball security compared to 2.0 hand due to improved ability to isolate wrist/finger function

  • May have asymmetrical arm or hand function, noticeable with chair and ball handling skills
Class 3.0
Typical role on court Very good ball handler and fast playmaker
Chair skills/function
  • Because of balanced finger function, athlete can grip wheelchair rim increasing pushing speed

  • May have some trunk control giving better stability in the chair
Ball skills/function
  • Because of function in fingers, can control ball in varying planes of movement for passing, dribbling, catching and protecting ball during these activities

  • Can dribble and pass ball well with one hand

  • Multiple dribble one handed with control

  • Stabilizes with the opposite arm to allow greater reach (if the athlete has no trunk function)
Class 3.5
Typical role on court Major ball handler and very fast playmaker. Often primary ball handler and playmaker on team
Chair skills/function Has some trunk function, therefore very stable in wheelchair and able to use trunk for ball and chair skills
Ball skills/function
  • Because of combination of hand and trunk function, usually has excellent ball control with controlled one hand passing for distance and excellent ball security during passing and receiving

  • May have asymmetrical arm or hand function, noticeable with chair and ball handling skills