‘Murderball’ is what wheelchair rugby used to be called. And for good reason: For spectators, it looks like a cross between rugger and demolition derby. Aurally, it’s a constant clash of metal against wheelchair metal. The atmosphere at a wheelchair rugby game is electric.

Given its reputation, there was a stir in the Singapore wheelchair user community when a wheelchair rugby workshop rolled onto Singapore shores on June 13. Ten participants, alongside family and caregivers, joined the event at Toa Payoh Stadium to pick up techniques for one of the few full-contact disability sports in existence.

An instructor demonstrates an arm movement to wheelchair rugby participants by raising her right arm

An instructor leads wheelchair rugby participants in warming up before practice

“Manoeuvring the wheelchair and making quick directional changes require strength and speed,” said Stanley Lim, 39, a workshop participant describing how to they were taught to use their chairs to block and hold opponents. “It’ll take time to develop such skills. But having a team here makes the process enjoyable.”

It is an exciting time for wheelchair rugby, because more countries are now developing national programmes for the sport and building up their teams. The sport also presents an exciting opportunity for aspiring para-athletes in Singapore who wish to develop new skills and form the country’s inaugural wheelchair rugby team and compete in regional and international competitions.

Wheelchair rugby participants running circuits around cones placed around the game hall

Wheelchair rugby participants doing everyone’s favorite pre-game practice: Circuits

“With Malaysia and Indonesia having recently established programmes, we look to build up a team towards our first competition in Jakarta later this year,” said Mr Rodney Holt, 54, vice president of the Southeast Asian division of the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation.

“The regional Wheelchair Rugby scene has been gaining traction over the past few years. It’s time for Singapore to leverage on this growing interest to empower people with disabilities,” said Raja Singh, 55, one of the workshop’s organisers. Singh is a former para-athlete and managing director of DNR Wheels, a leading provider of disability and rehabilitative equipment.

Workshop participants looking serious as they warm up before the wheelchair rugby session

Workshop participants looking serious as they warm up before the wheelchair rugby session

During the workshop, participants tried out four wheelchairs specifically designed for the sport. These wheelchairs have a front bumper to strike and to hold opposing wheelchairs. They also have defensive attachments known as wings, positioned in front of the main wheels to make the wheelchair more difficult to stop and hold.

Participants were also exposed to various drills such as how to manoeuvre a wheelchair while holding the ball, as well as how to pass the ball. They also went through an assessment to classification their abilities, such as range of mobility and skill level.

Instructors giving participants a post-game review

Instructors giving participants a post-game review

Unlike many other sports, which has clearly defined categories for men and women, this Paralympic sport allows both genders to compete on the same team. It is played on an indoor court and involves two teams of four who compete to carry the ball across the opposing team’s goal line.

“It pushed me out of my comfort zone and brought me together with other like-minded individuals,” said Eric Ting, 44, another participant who has been involved in other sports such as wheelchair racing.

“Sport has a transformative element that empowers people with disabilities to showcase different capabilities and see what they can aspire towards. In particular, wheelchair rugby has the added element of teamwork and competing as a group as compared to participating on an individual level for sports such as wheelchair racing.”

Weekly training sessions have been arranged for all interested participants. Said Singh: “An active lifestyle inspires self-confidence and we hope that participants will be able to feel that they are part of a community that encourages them to continuously better themselves.”

Interested in playing wheelchair rugby? Contact Jeremy Yeo from DNR Wheels.