Wheelchair rugby: Trying to make history in Tokyo

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Wheelchair rugby exploded onto the Paralympics scene at the start of the 21st century when it made its debut at the Sydney 2000 Games.  

Two decades later and it is now considered one of the most thrilling and unmissable events of the two-week competition. 

Speed, strength and stamina are all required in abundance as players strive to carry the ball over the opponent’s try line.  

Although contact between players is not allowed, chair-to-chair collisions are not only permitted but encouraged, making it one of the biggest spectacles at the Games.  

Only five countries – Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Japan – have made it onto the podium in wheelchair rugby but Great Britain will be going all out to change that in Tokyo next year.  

We spoke to David Pond, Chief Executive of Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby, about Britain’s hopes of breaking the mould in Japan and how you can experience the many joys of this unique team sport. 

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What are your ambitions for ParalympicsGB going into Tokyo 2021? 

To medal. We’ve come close to reaching the medal games before, and in Rio lost the placement game to Canada by a single point in over-time! We’ve played, and won against, each of the top three ranked teams in the world since 2016 and we know we can earn a place on the podium in Tokyo. 

What are some of wheelchair rugby’s greatest Paralympic moments? 

As a Chief Exec, seeing the team compete at a home Games in London 2012, it being my first Paralympic Games with GB Wheelchair Rugby, is hard to beat!  

Do you have any advice for someone dreaming of becoming a Paralympian in your sport? 

Keep dreaming and believe in yourself! If you can make the physical and mental commitment, and if you are prepared to work with the outstanding club coaches we have, then you may find yourself in the Talent squad. 

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Who are your most successful athletes? 

All of our athletes are a success in my eyes. Their personal achievements are incredible, and the closer you are to understanding what they do to maintain their position in the squad, the more you are in awe of them.  

If I had to be pushed to name one person though it would be Johnny Coggan. Johnny is recognised as the best 0.5 in the world but over and above this he is just an amazing human being with personal qualities we can all aspire to. 

Who is wheelchair rugby ideal for?  

Our sport is genuinely inclusive. Men and women play in the same teams and we have disciplines of the sport which enable those with different impairments and functionality to play a version which is suited to them.  

Whilst the Paralympic discipline caters for players with higher levels of impairment, Wheelchair Rugby 5s is for those with greater levels of functionality. Our Junior Programme which we deliver in partnership with the Lord’s Taverners charity helps us meet our mission to grow the sport for the enjoyment of all. 

Wheelchair rugby can be enjoyed by people at all levels of the game. Here, GB Head Coach, Paul Shaw, British athlete, Aaron Phipps and young prospect, Tilly Robinson describe what the sport has given them. 

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 What steps do I take to get started? 

For anyone completely new to the sport, please reach out to us at info@gbwr.org.uk. We’ll put you in contact with a Regional Development Officer for your area, and they’ll support you into taster sessions, or arrange for you to get involved with your local club.  

The current coronavirus situation means that clubs are unable to train at the moment but we hope to be able to restart safely very soon. 

Join the global wheelchair rugby family! 

(Images by Anthony Hayton Photography & Megumi Masuda)