Yours To Enjoy
You might ask what makes wheelchair basketball different than basketball. The answer is very simple, only the wheelchair, everything else about it is pretty well the same. Oh there are a few differences in the rules – no dunk of course – but wheelchair basketball has the “tilt”. Travelling is caused by too many pushes on the wheels instead of too many steps, players can have their small front wheels over the line when shooting a foul shot but the reason is simple it puts their body just behind the line so the distance for the shot is the same. The same reasoning prevails for the three-point shot which the players are very good at; the basket is in the same place at the same height. The players shoot three-pointers, foul shots and do lay-ups. The only difference is they do it in a wheelchair and a very special wheelchair at that.
So why wheelchair basketball; because it enables players “who have a permanent physical disability in the lower limb which means that they are unable to run, pivot or jump at a speed and with the control, safety, stability and endurance of an able-bodied player” the chance to play the sport they love. Wheelchair basketball players are classified according to functional ability (1 through 4.5 in half point increments) with the most severely disabled player being classed as a 1 and the least severally disabled player being classed as a 4.5. Classification is based on the functional ability of the player as they demonstrate their skill in playing the sport. At no time may a team have more than 14 points on the floor. This ensures that all players regardless of their level of disability are integral to the success of the team.
Wheelchair basketball had its start after the Second World War when rehabilitation hospitals had many patients with lower limb disabilities and they needed a way to get them active again. It very much grew out of the hospital system with heavy hospital wheelchairs limiting what the players could do. In spite of the equipment the players were enthusiastic about the sport and it spread around the world. In fact much of the improvement to the wheelchairs seen today came about as a result of the demand from the players in those early days for better, lighter more easily propelled chairs to play in. This spilled over into the manufacture of everyday chairs, which in turn brought about greater mobility to anyone who uses a wheelchair.
The game grew in popularity through the fifties and sixties with teams primarily from the USA, Israel, Germany and Great Britain with other countries joining as they were introduced to the sport playing mostly at Stoke Mandeville, the home of wheelchair sports for many years. As the sport spread the players wanted to test themselves against the best in the world and this led to the first World championship for men which was played in 1975 in Bruges, Belgium. Israel defeated the USA in the final with Great Britain taking the bronze medal in those first championships. The USA would win the next three championships; 1979 in Tampa Florida, 1983 in Halifax, Canada and 1986 in Melbourne, Australia. At the World Championships in Melbourne it was decided to hold the championships every four years. In 1990 the tournament returned to Bruges and France took the Gold but the USA regained their dominance in 1994 in Edmonton, Canada, in 1998 in Sydney, Australia and again in 2002 in Kitakuyshu, Japan. Canada brought their reign to an end in Amsterdam in 2006.
Meanwhile at the Paralympics in the men’s division Israel took gold in Arnhem, the Netherlands in 1980, the French took gold in 1984 at Stoke Mandeville, the USA in Seoul, Korea in 1988, the Netherlands would win in Barcelona in 1992 and Australia would stun the world in 1996 in Atlanta winning gold with a very young team. Canada would take gold in 2000 in Sydney and 2004 in Greece but Australia would get their revenge in 2008 defeating Canada in front of a packed house in Beijing.
On the women’s side in the 70’s West Germany was the team to beat but at the first world championship, which took place in 1990 in France the USA defeated them to take gold. In 1992 the Canadian women would emerge to take over the top spot at the Paralympics in Barcelona. They would dominate women’s play for the next 12 years winning gold at the World Championships in Stoke Mandeville in 1994, in Sydney in 1998 and Kitakuyshu in 2002 as well as gold at the Paralympics in Atlanta in 1996, Sydney in 2000 before finally losing to Australia in the semi-finals in Athens, in 2004. The USA women would go on to win the gold that year and again in Beijing in 2008.
In 1997 IWBF introduced world championships for U23 Men. The first tournament was held in Toronto, Canada with only seven nations attending. The host nation Canada took the Gold and followed this with gold in the 2001 Championships in Blumenau, Brazil.
In 2005 the tournament came of age with a full complement of 12 countries from all four zones competing in Birmingham, Great Britain. Japan surprised everyone by defeating Australia to get into the gold medal game before finally losing to the USA. At the last U23 World Championship held in Paris, France in 2009 USA retained their title as World Champions.
A very exciting development for IWBF will see the introduction of an age class tournament for women in 2011. The U25 World Championship for women will take place July, 2011 in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. IWBF understood the importance of giving young women a chance to play at the world level if there was going to be any growth of new countries in women’s play.
IWBF joins FIBA in the introduction of 3 on 3 Wheelchair Basketball as a new discipline of play in 2011. IWBF believes that 3 on 3 will allow smaller nations to get involved and be successful quickly as they will need less players and the cost of travel and equipment will be more affordable. The rules for 3 on 3 for IWBF will vary from that of FIBA as IWBF will use two baskets and a modified court size to accommodate the space differences using wheelchairs require. The classification system will remain the same but points on the floor will be less and the periods will be shorter. In introducing 3 on 3 IWBF has two objectives; first we are hoping to encourage more competition for women and youth who we believe will see the format as a new and exciting way to get started. Second, the hope that once the players’ experience 3 on 3 they will want to take their skills and help the program grow in their country so they can play wheelchair basketball at the top level.
Starting in 2012 the number of teams at the world championships will be increased to accommodate the increased interest at the Zone level. In addition, the IWBF made the decision to hold the men and women’s championships at different times in different cities for the first time since 1994. There will be 16 teams at the men’s world championship in Goyong City, South Korea up from 12 and 12 teams at the women’s world championship in Toronto, Canada up from 10. This marks a very important step in the growth of the sport as it allows more countries to participate at the world level. Qualification tournaments are held in each of the four Zones of IWBF every two years. Teams earn spots for their Zone by their finish in the previous world event. This has proved to be a very important incentive in the attraction of new countries into the sport.
One of the biggest challenges to getting new programs started is the cost of the wheelchair with top level wheelchairs made of titanium costing upwards of USD 7,000. IWBF has been working with several partners on the research and design of an inexpensive wheelchair and this past year saw that work come to fruition with the introduction of an inexpensive wheelchair that can be purchased for under USD 300. This has resulted in many countries finally being able to purchase chairs and begin to introduce the sport. With this advance comes a new challenge to find coaches and officials to help in the new programs. IWBF is working to introduce resource material that will assist in the training of coaches, classifiers and referees to meet the demands of the players.
IWBF is the world governing body for wheelchair basketball. It is recognized by FIBA and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) as the sole competent authority in wheelchair basketball world wide. IWBF is governed by an Executive Council that is elected at the World Congress every four years. IWBF became an independent International Federation in 1994 when its first president Sir Philip Craven was elected. In 2001 Sir Craven was elected President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and retired as president of IWBF. Mrs. Maureen Orchard (Canada) was elected president of IWBF at the World Congress in Kitakyushu, Japan in 2002 and re-elected in 2006 in Amsterdam. IWBF has 85 National Organizations Governing Wheelchair Basketball (NOWB) participating in wheelchair basketball throughout the world. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people play wheelchair basketball. Wheelchair basketball is played by boys and girls, men and women.
Yes, Wheelchair basketball has come a long way since those early days of heavy steel hospital wheelchairs with limited mobility to today’s custom made wheelchairs, so light and manoeuvrable that the players almost seem to dance as they weave their way down the court to score. Popular with the media and fans alike it portrays the athleticism of the sport and makes the spectator forget about the disability and see only the skill of the players.
And so to answer the question what makes wheelchair basketball different – nothing – because in the end we all have one thing in common, whether we play under the rules of IWBF or under the rules of FIBA the fact is we all love the game of basketball.