bbc.co.uk Navigation


The box office big-hitters at the Olympics or Paralympics will always be the athletes, swimmers, rowers and cyclists.

Over the last few days, ParalympicsGB hasn't let us down. David Weir finally grabbed a slice of gold pie in the Bird's Nest, 13-year-old swimmer Eleanor Simmonds got us all blubbering after putting her school books down to win two golds, and there was blind cyclist Aileen McGlynn's glorious win in the velodrome. And before I get a whacking from a rowing blade, there was Helene Raynsford's historic win.

But listen up, there's a Paralympic sport that may not be on many of your radars, but has certainly been rocking my world. It's got violence, bags of skill and more bangs than a Guy Ritchie re-make of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Just a play on the word 'bang', in case you were thinking Dick Van Dyke had played the sport).

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Nope, it's not boccia. It's murderball, or for the more conservative of you - wheelchair rugby.

Invented in Winnipeg, Canada in 1977 by quadraplegics who lacked the fine motor skills required for wheelchair basketball, it was introduced to the Paralympic program in 1996. The Americans dominated until New Zealand won in Athens. And in 2005 it grabbed the world with the release of Murderball - a movie documentary following the bitter rivalry between the US and Canada wheelchair rugby teams building up to the 2004 Paralympics.

Bounce a ball, get it down the other end and score a goal. Those are the basics. Sounds straight forward. It is, but why the murderball?

The ball part explains the volleyball they use. But murder? That'll be the contact. Some call the sport "chess with violence". It's actually part of the game to crash into your opponent and wipe them out, even when they haven't got the ball.

Are the Brits any good? They were fourth in Athens, and after losing to the Americans on Monday, captain Andy Barrow and co (which includes 22-year-old Josie Pearson - the first British woman to compete in the sport at a Paralympics) had a chance of grabbing that elusive medal when they took on Canada for bronze. It ended in agony but it had been a fine campaign.


Wheelchair rugby
is played indoors by a team of 12 of the hardest, toughest athletes you're ever likely to meet and it's end-to-end sporting magic. Honestly.

I don't say this as someone who knows the sport inside out. And you may be wondering why I'm dabbling with my keyboard when I'm over 5,000 miles away from the land of China.

Business and pleasure you could call it. As a fan of sport, every crash, bang and wallop during GB's win over defending champions New Zealand last week and the defeats to Australia and the US has sucked me in even more. The business part was a seed sown a few months ago in a seemingly quiet gym hall in north London.

I was up in Stanmore with the BBC's Olympic Dreams TV crew (the latest series went out on BBC One in August) to film some of the GB players in training. It was skipper Barrow - he broke his neck in a rugby scrum in 1997 leaving him paralysed from the chest down - that fronted our video guide to the sport (see above).

After three hours of filming and watching, I was hooked. These guys are athletes. Proper bloomin' athletes and tougher than my gran's malt loaf. Why?

GB's wheelchair rugby team in action

1) Injuries. These guys pick them up for their sport for fun. Pushing the chairs for four quarters each lasting eight minutes cannot be easy and I saw hands that day that wouldn't have looked out of place in the living room of Dr. Gunther von Hagens. (Do a google search on Body Worlds if you're scratching your head)

2) No Sweating. What? Most of the players in this sport have bad spinal injuries so they often don't have the ability to sweat. Over-heating is a major major problem so they spend a lot of time drinking water or spraying their faces.

3) And skill. They've got bags of it, even the chunky ones and that's most of them. As well as passing the ball around at lightning speed, staying upright on your wheels is a bonus - not easy when you're being charged full speed from the side. The specially-built chairs resemble battering rams and even have scoops and bumpers to help you strike your opponent. This sport seems to be not designed to avoid brutality.

It all boils down to a clattering, metal-crashing, highly-charged and hugely compulsive sport.

You will love it. Guaranteed. If you're not fixated within 64 seconds you can have your licence fee back. Hold on. That's the talk of a man who's worked too many early Paralympic shifts. What I'm saying is, this is sport at its finest.

With Barrow's barking instructions and star man Troye Collins in full flow throughout the tournament, hopes ahd been high. But it wasn't to be. They lost quite comfortably in the end 47-41.

We should have known. The Canadian team included Say Luangkhamdeng and captain David Willsie. Their thoughts on the sport? Willsie calls it "condoned violence", while Luangkhamdeng, who broke his neck 10 years ago says: "It's a lot of crazy aggression. You get to bag people out there for fun."

Better luck next time GB.

Mark Ashenden is a BBC Sport journalist focusing on the Olympic Dreams series. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


Comments

or register to comment.

  • 1. At 8:18pm on 15 Sep 2008, SuperStrikerShivam wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 2. At 8:32pm on 15 Sep 2008, JayRed - The Babes' Remembered Forever and a day! wrote:

    Your a joke! It's really funny how everyone was cheering on GB in the Olympics but come the paralympics no one gives a crap! And no I am not disabled, I am perfectly able and no one close to me is disabled I am just making an honest observation.

    Complain about this comment

  • 3. At 8:55pm on 15 Sep 2008, jollygrandsamster wrote:

    Jay Red,

    I am not disabled either but I do feel that your observation about the Paralympians is way off the scale. You seem to overlook the fact that all of these fine athletes had to overcome many obstacles in order to come to the Paralympics - added to that is the fact that all of them are elite athletes and all of them have gained a new lease of life through sport and respect is due on all of them.

    As for the rugby, it's a shame that GB lost to the US but I'll be cheering them on against the Canucks and I have enjoyed every minute of it and yes, those guys are a bunch of nutters - can't see you, Jay Red, have the courage to sit in those wheelchairs and have a go

    Complain about this comment

  • 4. At 8:57pm on 15 Sep 2008, rpcutts wrote:

    This does look quite interesting. I doubt it could hold my focus for long though.

    In response to JayRed:
    No I don't give a crap, nor do I see why I should.

    The Olympics interests me because it is the peak of human conditioning going at each other to be the worlds best.

    The Paralympics does not intrest me because it is people overcoming adversity to compete with others that have overcome adversity.

    I appreciate why people my find it inspiring and heart warming but I do not and I won't apologise for it. I want to see the elite sportsman in competition with each other. Not some unfortunate souls making the best of their bad luck.

    Essentially it's the same reason I watch the Champions League and not the Visually Impaired Football League. SO please climb down from that o so high horse on which you appear to have perched yourself on.

    Complain about this comment

  • 5. At 9:42pm on 15 Sep 2008, And wrote:

    Rpcutts, did you take your blinkers off to actually LOOK at the competitors? Cyclist Sarah Storey would have placed in the Olympics with one of her times, she is superbly fit. Ditto Aileen McGlynn, Darren Kenny, Simon Richardson - all the cyclists in fact. Given that they trained with the Olympic team, no surprises there.

    Swimmer Dave Roberts is a powerhouse of muscle, as are Sascha Kindred and Matt Wells. They happen to have impairments which mean they are slower than non-impaired swimmers. They ARE elite though. They are the best they can be. You are clearly not comfortable with the concept of supremely fit disabled people being elite athletes - so much so, you refuse to acknowledge the possibility.

    When a racehorse doesn't win because the handicapper has been over-zealous with the weight, do you slate the horse's fitness? Of course not. The horse will run as fast as it can under the extra burden. That should illuminate the concept for you...

    Complain about this comment

  • 6. At 9:42pm on 15 Sep 2008, DJHDJH wrote:

    Quite frankly all those sportsmen at the Paralympics are elite sportspeople. Don't ever say that they are not - they train at the same level as Olympians and compete with the best in the world of their class.

    You don't have to be interested (I can name plenty of sport I don't care about) but at least show a little respect and be less patronising. These people have achieved more in their life just in performance terms than most ever do.

    Complain about this comment

  • 7. At 9:55pm on 15 Sep 2008, kerthin wrote:

    nice work
    you can also see in this blog
    www.4abreak.blogspot.com

    Complain about this comment

  • 8. At 10:35pm on 15 Sep 2008, kris wrote:

    I think the paralympics has been really good for alerting me to two things about sport.
    Wheelchair basketball is more exciting than Basketball.
    'Murderball' is a lot more exciting than Rugby.
    That said, i thought 64 seconds of watching Murderball was enough to send me to sleep rather than justify the cost of my licence fee! Though perhaps i was unfortunate that the 64 seconds i observed were completely taken up by the chess type move you refer to whereby one player blocked another in the corner whilst the rest of the game watched them (neither of them even had the ball).

    Complain about this comment

  • 9. At 10:42pm on 15 Sep 2008, Nicholas wrote:

    Fascinating insight. Thank You. Given your language disability (or is it just plain ignorance?) perhaps you could play?
    "chance of grabbing that illusive medal when... "

    Complain about this comment

  • 10. At 11:59pm on 15 Sep 2008, redhotbed wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 11. At 00:36am on 16 Sep 2008, cptwoofus wrote:

    Able friends watching 'Murderball' thought it incredible, became very 'animated' during play and afterward emptied my fridge of cans. It was after described by them as 'Dodgems with Extreme Attitude'.

    The anti-paralympic comments made on this thread seem to have been written by persons in complete ignorance of their subject or perhaps some with a low concentration threshold - '64 seconds' (kris) or paid agitators from the 'Couch Potato Protection Society'.

    Complain about this comment

  • 12. At 1:31pm on 16 Sep 2008, RubberNutz wrote:

    Not too fussed about the paralympics normally -

    but murderball is awesome. It's completely crackers!

    Complain about this comment

  • 13. At 1:37pm on 16 Sep 2008, wheelie wrote:

    Murderball is excellent, shame we didn't get the bronze, there's always 2012.

    Complain about this comment

  • 14. At 1:49pm on 16 Sep 2008, Mitallica wrote:

    Murderball is brilliant (so is the documentary/film). I've seen the guys in action at Stoke Mandeville - the players live, breathe and dream Wheelchair Rugby. They are world-class Olympians and those of you who can't appreciate the game should join in on a demo for the abled bodied when the boys return - just to experience it - you'll get battered!
    So gutted we didn't get the bronze - but 2012 is their year for sure...Justin, Troy Andy et al...I am VERY proud of you all!

    Complain about this comment

  • 15. At 2:49pm on 16 Sep 2008, hizento wrote:

    Wheelchair rugby has been categorise as a mixed sport because of rule change that allow women to compete. Each team are allowed 11 players however if a team field a woman they are allowed an extra player. I mean isnt that cheating?
    One team with just 11 men competing with another with 11 men plus 1 women, this is just barmy. This token female player might be all the different between winning and losing.

    Complain about this comment

  • 16. At 3:05pm on 16 Sep 2008, wheelie wrote:

    Why are teams who include a woman allowed an extra player? that's just mad!

    Complain about this comment

  • 17. At 3:23pm on 16 Sep 2008, GippoDippo wrote:

    Having been fortunate enough to live in China see the game against Australia on Sunday night I'd like to point out how incredible it is as a sport.
    There is massive passion and these are amazing sportsmen. Although I didnt know the rules before hand, it was easy to understand and amazing to watch.
    The night was made even better by the atmosphere, amid avid fans, it was amazing to see the players feeding off that, and the appreciativeness of the Chiense crowd who clearly had no idea what was going on but are amazing at appreciating what it was, a demonstration of impressive sportsmanship.
    The massive hits are as good if not better than in normal rugby for the effect they have on the player and how tight these games are.
    I want to see more and wish I was still in Beijing for the match.

    Complain about this comment

View these comments in RSS

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites