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16 January 2016

Wheelchair Rugby: 5 storylines ahead of Rio 2016

USA caused the biggest upset at the BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge to knock out world champions Australia with a tight 57-54 victory. © WWRC15

By Beau Greenway | For the IPC

 

1. Will Canada win their first ever Paralympic gold?

Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada are the only four nations to claim medals at the Paralympics since the sport made its debut as a demonstration event at Atlanta in 1996.


Canada has taken home the silver on three occasions (1996, 2004 and 2012) and will enter Rio 2016 as the favourites after an outstanding 2015 season.

 

Wins at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games, where the sport made its debut, and another gold at the 2015 BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge in London, Great Britain, against the world’s top teams handed them the No.1 ranking.

 

Canada has a big weapon in Zak Madell, regarded as the most dangerous player.

 

2. Can Australia win back-to-back Paralympic golds?

 

The defending Paralympic and world champions have had a less than ideal lead-up to Rio, slipping to No.4 in the rankings after a semi-final loss to the USA in the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge and defeat to Japan in the final of the Asia-Oceania Championships two weeks later.

 

But the starting line-up of Ryley Batt, Chris Bond, Ryan Scott and Naz Erdem, combined with a mix of youth and experience on the bench, still has Australia as a favourite.

 

3. Denmark to qualify for first Paralympics?

 

The last-chance qualifying tournament will be in Paris, France, this April and will decide the final two spots for the wheelchair rugby tournament at Rio 2016.

 

Brazil, Australia, Canada, Japan, Great Britain and Sweden are already in. The USA, Denmark, France, Ireland, Germany and New Zealand will fight for the last two places to compete on the sport’s biggest stage.

 

As the No. 2 ranked nation in the world, the USA should be able to book their ticket. However the other five nations are have similar ability and experience and will be doing all they can to get to Rio.

 

Denmark are the highest ranked of those nations at No.7 and should bounce back after a nail-biting one goal loss to Sweden in the European Championships semi-final to take the final place.

 

4. Can Great Britain reach the podium?

 

The No.5 ranked team in the world and Europe’s best, Great Britain, may just have what it takes to go further than they have ever before at Rio 2016.

 

The young side has had plenty of time together as a squad and are starting to show the rest of the world what they can produce. That was evident in their win at the 2015 European Championships.

 

James Roberts has been key in the turnaround of wheelchair rugby in Great Britain, and has had help from fellow youngster Ajaz Bhuta, combined with the experience of veterans Alan Ash and Mandip Sehmi.

 

5. Brazil wheelchair rugby to go to next level

 

While the hosts will go into the wheelchair rugby tournament as serious underdogs, the sport will receive the best exposure it has ever had in South America.

 

Brazil is currently ranked No.19 and are one of the frontrunners in developing the traditionally North American-dominated sport in the continent.

 

Following Rio 2016, expect a lot more people to know what wheelchair rugby is and more teams to start up around the country and other South American nations.

 

Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs).

 

The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.

 

Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.