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Wheelchair Paralympic Sports

After World War II, based on the needs of a huge number of injured civilians and ex-officers, the wheelchair Paralympic sports were introduced as an essential part of rehabilitation. These sports turned into recreational sport activities and later became competitive sports for those with physical disabilities. 


Ludwig Guttmann was the founding father of this approach. He was well known in the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. In the year 1948, while England hosted the Olympic Games, he organized a special sports competition for athletes that were wheelchair bound. This was the beginning of the wheelchair Paralympic games. In order words, this sports began in the late 1940s. 

The Paralympic sports includes different sports contested both in the Winter and Summer Paralympic Games. In the year 2016, the Winter Paralympics included 5 sports and 72 medal events, and the Summer Paralympics included 22 sports and about 526 events. The types and number of events usually changed as more Paralympic Games were played.  

Just as basketball, football and tennis, players wear special shoes when they are on the field, Paralympic athletes also do the same in wheelchair sports. You will never find a Paralympic athlete that use a three-wheeled contraption, or a racing chair to play a wheelchair basketball game. Perhaps a chair utilized in wheelchair tennis would be great for a wheelchair basketball game, but it doesn’t have the features that are needed to withstand contact and crashes with other players’ chairs while playing a basketball game.

The wheelchairs that are used in the Paralympics are designed to fit athletes’ impairments and bodies. Depending on the kind of sport, the wheelchair used will enable players to increase their performances during a competition. The following are the major types of wheelchair Paralympic sports.

1. Wheelchair Basketbal

Wheelchair basketball is played by persons with various physical disabilities; these disabilities may be such that made them ineligible to take part in an able-bodied basketball game. These include amputation, paralysis as a result of an accident, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, birth defects, and other physical disabilities. The IWBF (International Wheelchair Basketball Federation) is solely responsible for the supervision and running of this sport. 

This basketball body (IWBF) has eighty-two national organizations that oversees the operation of wheelchair basketball sport all over the world, and the number keeps adding up each year. A research carried out in 2016 showed that about 100,000 physically challenged people now take part in wheelchair basketball.  

Wheelchair basketball is one of the most popular Paralympic Games. Two years after each Paralympic game, the Wheelchair Basketball World Championship is usually played. Some of the major wheelchair basketball competitions come from the United States, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and Great Britain. 

Wheelchair basketball is most commonly played by those with different kinds of physical challenges that prevent pivoting, running and jumping. With the use of a sports wheelchair, the basketball game is played by two teams of 5 players each. This sport was originally developed in 1945 by the veterans of World War II. Since then, the sport has become known all over the world and was even played at Rome in her 1960’s Paralympic Games. Presently, this wheelchair Paralympic sport is practiced in almost hundred states.

How Is The Sport Played?

The sport is played just like the regular basketball. The backboard, court and the hoop all have the same dimensions as that of the able-bodied basketball. Each team is allowed to have just twelve players and only 5 are allowed to be on the court at once. The main objective is to shoot the ball into the net and score as many points as you can before the end of the final period. Players use lightweight and small wheelchairs that comes with 1 or 2 smaller front wheels to provide them with stability and balance. They are also gently strapped into their seat as this enable them to be smart while in their chair.

After the end of the fourth period, if the score happen to be a tie, the game will go and an additional period of 5 minutes (or as long as it takes to break the tie) will be added. After the tie is broken, only then will there be a winner. 

What Is a Basketball Wheelchair?

If you have ever been to a wheelchair basketball game, then you may have probably noticed that the sportsmen do not play this sport in their regular wheelchairs. While there are so many differences between these two chairs, the most noticeable differences are that they have lower backs, they’re not as big and they have lightweight wheels that all slant inward. Basketball wheelchairs are specially designed for the basketball game, and they are made to give sportsmen better maneuverability and speed while on the basketball court.

Athletic Wheelchair Parts

Since the 1980s, wheelchair basketball players and wheelchair producers have been making lightweight wheelchairs that are durable, fast and can maneuver with ease. Now more sophisticated than ever before, these wheelchairs are designed with sets of 4 or sometimes 3 wheels along with other essential fixtures like seat belts, foam grips specifically for push handles, impact guards, brakes (are of many different kinds), castor wheels and other accessories. Most basketball wheelchairs now come with a fifth wheel that is installed at the back of the chair and helps in preventing the chair from a backward flip during a game.  

However, a chair like the basketball wheelchair isn’t as cheap as a regular chair, these chairs cost a lot. The cost of a standard basketball wheelchair ranges from about $1500 to $4000, while you can get the more advanced models for $5000. Although you may find few basketball wheelchairs to below $1500, they may not last for a long period of time. Athletes who play wheelchair basketball also use a regular wheelchair whenever they’re not training or playing a basketball game. 


2. Wheelchair Fencing

Wheelchair fencing is a special type of fencing for those who are physically disabled. Wheelchair fencing is overseen by a body called the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWASF) which is a member of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and it is a wheelchair sport that is among the Summer Paralympic Games. This wheelchair Paralympic sport takes place once every four years in various countries.

Wheelchair fencing involves the use of three different weapons and it is usually played by skilled persons with lower-body impairment. Since Rome 1960, wheelchair fencing has featured in all Paralympic Games.

Wheelchair fencing, as it is popularly known as, is a fast-moving battle of technique and tactics. Athletes compete while seated in their wheelchairs that are properly stationed into a frame and fastened to the floor. This provides them with the freedom they need to move their upper bodies, and also keep them safe while seated in their chairs. 

Although sword fighting was introduced thousands of years ago, fencing as most people know it was introduced as a sport during the 19th century. Wheelchair fencing was first practiced at Stoke Mandeville Hospital after World War II (this was the birthplace of this Paralympic sport). The sport was utilized in facilitating the recovery of patients who suffered from spinal cord injury and found it hard to move themselves into their wheelchair. Fencing was believed to improve their core stability and to instill confidence. Because those who participate in wheelchair fencing cannot utilize their feet to move from one place to another, they are always close to their opponent. Precise skills are a necessity, as are intense resilience and concentration.

During a sword play, a fencer is not allowed to move his/her hindquarters off the wheelchair seat or use any of their legs to gain an advantage. Nevertheless, they utilize special chairs that have been properly customized to their impairment and physique.

In an individual pool stage, the first person to make 5 hits in 3 minutes wins the game. The knockout stages comprises of 3 three-minute fights, where the first fencer that makes fifteen hits wins. In a competition between three different teams, a fencing game will comprise of nine fights with one fencer fencing against another fencer from a different team. Each bout of a relay match usually comprise of five hits with a three-minute time frame for each bout. In a competitive play, draws at the end of every match are settled by sudden death with the bout extended by just one minute.

Fencing occurs on a piste measurement of 4m x 1.5m. Preparations for every match starts with fixing the wheelchairs for the sport at a 110-degree angle according to the center line in the piste frames. The space between each athlete is determined by the fencer with a shorter arm reach. Such a fencer will decide whether the distance between them and their opponent(s) will be based on their length reach or that of the opponent. 

Wheelchair fencers are clothed with protective gear such as gloves, masks, breeches and jackets. They also utilize the same scoring system (electronic) as in Olympic fencing games. The rules of a wheelchair fencing game is governed by a body called the International Fencing Federation with amendments according to the needs of a wheelchair athlete. Fencers are divided into two major categories (A and B) base on their level of disability. Competitions are carried out in three different disciplines. The Épée discipline is a fencing category where a dueling sword and the heaviest weapon is used. Here, from the waist upward is targeted. The second discipline is the Foil. This discipline involves the use of lightweight weapons. Here, the target area is the trunk. The last discipline is the Sabre and only men are allowed to compete here. Here, the fencers make a score when they hit any target area above the waist.


3. Wheelchair Rugby

Wheelchair rugby (originally known as murderball) is a team game for athletes who are wheelchair bound. It is practiced in over 25 countries around the globe and it is among the summer wheelchair Paralympic sports.

One major requirement of this sport is that all rugby athletes need to have certain disabilities that include loss of consciousness in not less than three limbs. Although most rugby athletes suffer from spinal cord injuries, they may also be eligible through neurological disorders, multiple amputations or other disability-related medical conditions. Teams are scored in points, and every team is limited to taking on an opposing team with an eight-point aggregate.  

Wheelchair rugby is an indoors sport which is played on a court made out of hardwood, and physical contact is made between wheelchairs as this is an essential part of the sport. The rules comprise of elements from wheelchair ice hockey, basketball, rugby, ice hockey and handball union.

Established in 1993, the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation governs this sport. Being the only full-contact wheelchair Paralympic sports, the wheelchair rugby was among the greatest hits of the Rio 2016 and London 2012 Paralympic Games. The sport can be played by both male and female athletes, and it is one of those wheelchair games that permits them to play on the same team. But it isn’t only the athletes that participate in this sport; there are enough of opportunities for others to play other roles on the sidelines as well. In Great Britain, this wheelchair sport keeps looking for support staff, referees, officials and coaches to help at tournaments and even at training sessions. 

It is commonly called ‘murderball’ because of its no-holds-barred nature. It is a game filled with physical determination, full-contact, hard hits, speed and physical determination which makes it a thrilling watch. Each team has twelve players, however, only four players are allowed to be on the court at a particular time. Each player has a crucial role to play. The role they play is determined by a classification schedule based on strength and muscle function. Classes are in 0.5 to 3.5, and a team of 4 players must get a total of 8 points or less before the end of a play.

Who Can Play A Wheelchair Rugby Game?

Wheelchair rugby is mainly for those with spinal damages that affect all limbs, such as paraplegics and quadriplegics. Nevertheless, any sportsman with a disability that alters all limbs can play any sport that uses a classification schedule based on strength and muscle function. 0.5 classifies a player with the least disability, and 3.5 classifies players with the most disability. 

As said earlier, wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a basketball court with two key areas, boundary lines, centerline, and a center circle. Two cones at both ends of the court serve as goal areas, and a goal can only be scored when a team carries the ball across the line. This Paralympic game is played in 4 eight-minute quarters and a participating team is given 40 seconds to get the ball across the line before it gets turned over. Chair-to-chair contact is permitted, but person-to-person and person-to-chair contact is not allowed.

4. Wheelchair Tennis

Wheelchair tennis was introduced in the late 1970s by Brad Parks. It went ahead to become an important competitive international sport. Wheelchair tennis made it first appearance in  1992 at the Barcelona Paralympic Games. 

Just like the standard tennis, wheelchair tennis is also played on a court and it is governed by most of the standard tennis rules. Nevertheless, in the case of wheelchair tennis, a participant (player) is permitted to let the tennis ball bounce more than once but twice, before striking a returning shot. The athlete’s wheelchair is also considered as part of his/her body, so all rules that apply to a stand up tennis player’s body applies to the wheelchair as well. 

Paralympic wheelchair tennis game is open to both female and male players with physical disabilities like spinal cord injury and amputation/limb loss. Wheelchair tennis can only be played by athletes that are wheelchair bound. The size of the ball, net height, court size and racket are all the same, although there are two key things that differentiate it from the pedestrian tennis: athletes make use of specially built chairs, and the ball is allowed to bounce twice, and the second bounce can occur even outside the tennis court.

Wheelchair tennis is one of the wheelchair sports played during the Summer Paralympics. The sport is open for three categories of players: Quad, Men, and Women; each of these categories have doubles and singles tournaments. The Quad is the latest division and it is for athletes with loss of function in one upper limb; it could also include other disabilities expect quadriplegia. This division is commonly referred to as ‘Mixed’. In this category, the racquet is taped to the athlete’s hand as it compensate for the functional loss, and some athletes are even permitted to use electric-powered wheelchairs.


5. Wheelchair Curling

Wheelchair curling is a type of curling game that is specially designed for players with physical disabilities, and it is overseen by the World Curling Federation. Wheelchair curling is a winter Paralympic game played on the exact ice and with the exact stones as the regular curling, although here there’s no sweeping and the rocks are usually thrown from a stationary chair. International and national competitions are played according to rules made by the WCF. 

Wheelchair Curling works just like bowling in one way and shuffleboard in the other. A wheelchair curling team can comprise of both female and male players, competing against another team. The objective of this game is to move the 19.1 kilogram rock to the opposite end of the ice where the marked concentric rings are found. 

An end in wheelchair curling is just like a period in hockey or an inning in baseball. The teams play a total of six ends. Every player on each team will throw or slide, as it is commonly referred to as “two stones, 16 in total”. The wheelchair, however, must be in a particular position while playing this sport. The participants can use both hands or an extender cue to drive the rock to the circles.

A delivery cane or stick is a pole designed in the shape of a bracket which fits over the stone handle, letting the stone to be driven while applying the right rotation. This sport can be played by people with a lot of disabilities. All that is required is a tolerance for cold, and co-ordination to apply a measured pushing force. Without sweepers, wheelchair curling is best played in two-person formats like stick-curling.

In curling for the able bodied, athletes are free to sweep the ice in front of the rock while it slides. The continuous sweeping of the ice causes it to melt momentarily. 

At the end of every end, any team with the highest number of rocks closest to the center will be declared the winner. At the end of all six ends, the scores are put together and the rugby players or team that performed best will go home victorious. 



The wheelchair Paralympic sports are a major international multi-sport event for all athletes with impairments or physical disabilities. This includes all athletes with cerebral palsy, mobility disabilities, spinal injuries, blindness, and amputations. Paralympic sports has to do with organized or supervised competitive sport activities. The Paralympic sports are mainly organized and controlled under the rules and regulations of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and other global sports bodies.

Paralympic sports such as wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis, and wheelchair curling have given physically challenged athletes another reason to participate in the sport they love. Many Paralympic tournaments are now held in many countries around the world. Those with disability problems do not have to give up on sports. Just as this post has explained earlier, all athletes with mobility problems can participate in any wheelchair Paralympic sport they love. This is a great way of exercising the functional parts of your body as well as earning trophies, medals, and prize money in the process

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