Devised as a rehabilitation activity for injured war veterans, wheelchair basketball is now one of the most popular Paralympic sports.
During the 1940s, a form of wheelchair basketball was played at two war veterans' hospitals in the USA, and at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England under the supervision of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, founder of the Paralympic Games.
Now, wheelchair basketball is played in more than 100 countries around the world. It featured at the first Paralympic Games in Rome 1960 and has remained on the programme ever since. A women's competition was added at the Tel Aviv 1968 Games.
The rules of wheelchair basketball are broadly similar to basketball. The court is the same size, the basket is at the same height and the scoring is identical: two points for a regular shot from open play, one point for each successful free throw and three points for a shot from distance (6.75m or more from the basket). Players move the ball around the court by passing or dribbling, and are required to throw or bounce the ball after every two pushes of the wheels on their chairs to avoid being penalised for travelling.
There are 12 players in each team, with no more than five on court. A match lasts for four periods of ten minutes, with overtime if scores are tied.
- Team tournament (Men/Women)
Essence of the Sport
Shooting skills and smart tactics
Wheelchair basketball has taken many tactics from basketball and adapted them for the seated game. A basic ploy is to screen and block a defensive opponent to help an ally when shooting. This tactic is very effective in wheelchair basketball due to the wide area needed to change direction in a wheelchair. An example of this in practice is the ‘pick and roll’, a combination play to line up a shot in which a player quickly moves into space (‘roll’) created by screening an opponent (‘pick’).
The ‘back pick’ technique is also often used, where a high-pointer teammate is screened in the back court and unable to move, so a defensive player moves into attack. It is an important play in moving swiftly into attack mode and setting up teammates for shots. A unique strategy in wheelchair basketball is when a low-pointer stops an opposing high-pointer.
Without being able to jump or react with the lower half of the body, every player needs to develop strong shooting skills and arm strength. The ability of some wheelchair basketball players to shoot three-point goals can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games
Wheelchair basketball has become a highly competitive sport: the German, Spanish and Italian leagues involve many international players on professional contracts, while the United States has a university league. These are bolstered by the popularity of basketball in all its forms in many countries.
The men's teams from the United States, Australia and Canada have long been the main contenders in Olympic competition. The USA took gold at Rio 2016, but the silver went to Spain, the bronze to Great Britain and fourth place to Turkey, highlighting the growing strength of the sport worldwide.
One of the greatest ever players is Patrick Anderson, who first represented Canada in 1998 and helped his team to gold at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, then came out of retirement to do the same at London 2012.
In the women's game, Europe and North America also dominate. At Rio 2016, the United States took gold, Germany silver and the Netherlands went away with the bronze. Canada, Australia and the People’s Republic of China will also have ambitions for success in what's sure to be a thrilling tournament at Ariake Arena. During the World Championships 2018, Great Britain won gold in the men's competition followed by United States (silver), Australia (bronze) and Iran (fourth place). In the women's competition, the Netherlands won gold, followed by Great Britain (silver) and Germany (bronze).
To gain a little extra height for shots, rebounds and blocking shots, as well as for the tap-off at the start of play.