Is wheelchair rugby missing a trick? David Needham, secretary of Leicester Tigers WRC, says a relaxing of the rules would allow the sport to embrace everyone

Rugby Rant: Make wheelchair rugby more inclusive

BWR, THE governing body of wheelchair rugby in the UK, do a fantastic job. The quad game continues to ascend both domestically and on the international front. But with the relatively new WR5s variant, for me an opportunity is being overlooked.

WR5s was introduced to create a competitive outlet for players who have too much physical function to qualify to play the Paralympic quad game. It’s an attempt by a so-called inclusive sport to become more inclusive. And yet for me a strong element of exclusivity remains.

At junior level, wheelchair rugby is principally promoted in SEND education environments and is being played by both the able-bodied and individuals with physical impairments. This works well until a child reaches adulthood. At which point a fully able-bodied person would likely no longer qualify to compete.

Phil Waugh at 2018 Invictus Games

Sitting target: former Wallaby Phil Waugh during an exhibition game at the 2018 Invictus Games (Getty)

I feel very uneasy about this. When you also consider that every 
able-bodied person, from the casual sports person to the pro athlete, that has given the sport a try at our taster sessions has got out of their wheelchair at the end exhausted and with a beaming smile on their face, I’m left questioning how inclusive our sport truly is.

“Allowing the able-bodied to play 
will make our sport truly inclusive and increase the player base”

I’m puzzled by the resistance that exists when it comes to allowing the able-bodied to compete in our fantastic WR5s game. Particularly when you consider that in almost every instance, an able-bodied person would naturally be at a disadvantage when strapped into a rugby wheelchair.

For example, an everyday wheelchair user’s upper body will be more suited to propelling a wheelchair than someone getting in a chair only to play the game. The power-to-weight ratio of a person with all four limbs would be inferior to an amputee’s in almost every instance, as they have greater mass to propel.

I truly believe that taking a leaf out 
of wheelchair basketball’s book by allowing able-bodied people to play WR5s is the way forward.

It will make our sport truly inclusive and so increase 
the player base, which in turn will increase wheelchair rugby‘s popularity and 
its coverage in the media.

It’s true that red tape and funding hurdles would need to be overcome. But if the desire is there, then no 
objects are insurmountable.

Northampton v Leicester wheelchair rugby

Local rivals: Needham (right) closes in on a Northampton opponent (Claire Jones/

This article originally appeared in Rugby World magazine in May.

Can’t get to the shops? You can download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.