Great Britain has won their sixth European Wheelchair Rugby Championship as they defeated Sweden for the second straight tournament, winning 49-41 in Koblenz, Germany.
The sixth victory is a new record of European titles for one nation and a phenomenal achievement for the British. Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby had its entire government funding cut, so winning shows the strength of the side, and perhaps with a funded program they could contend at the World Championships in Sydney next year.
The European Wheelchair Rugby Championship has completed the pool play on Thursday with the semi-finals being set for Friday’s fixtures.
In the opening game of the day Poland took on Ireland in a phenomenally tight match through the first half, with Poland only up by one point. From there the Irish couldn’t keep up with Poland who pushed away to claim the 50-42 win, and go in to third.
The European Wheelchair Rugby Championships are underway in Koblenz, Germany with Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, and Germany all managing wins on the opening day of competition on Tuesday.
France and Sweden played out a thrilling match in the first of the tournament, squeaky by France in an up and down match with by one point. The match was tight throughout and it was always going to be one mistake that would decide things.
The European Wheelchair Rugby Championship schedule has been revealed with the teams due to arrive to compete in Koblenz in ten days.
As is traditional the hosts will close play in every day of competition which begins on the 24th of June. Sweden and France will start the tournament with one of the best matches of the group stages followed by Ireland against Denmark, Great Britain taking on Poland before Germany and Finland close the opening day of play.
Denmark has had a perfect preparation to the European Wheelchair Rugby Championship as they managed a perfect performance in the Metro Cup in Poland this weekend.
The win of the tournament gives Denmark a lot of momentum heading to the European Championship having beaten four European rivals. After missing Rio 2016, Denmark have been keen to avenge that missed tournament by taking out the European title.
Wheelchair Rugby has taken a big hit in Great Britain after they lost their appeal to return their funding from UK Sport. The sport lost its funding late last year and made an appeal two weeks ago but on Monday UK Sport announced that Wheelchair Rugby lost all of its funding.
It wasn’t the only sport that lost all its UK Sport funding as archery, fencing, goalball, table tennis and weightlifting also lost all their funding. That has left many worrying about the future of sport in Great Britain, with funding levels from London 2012 clearly proving unsustainable.
In explaining their decisions UK Sport has flagged that this could only be the beginning of funding withdrawals to different sports. The organization saying that the impending European Union departure for the nation potentially increasing costs.
When the withdrawal of funding first occurred Wheelchair Rugby found an unlikely ally in the form of Ed Warner, the head of UK Athletics. Warner publically condemned the decision to strip wheelchair rugby’s funding, something never before seen from a chairman of another sport.
Unfortunately the appeals of every sport were unsuccessful and UK Sports chief executive, Liz Nicholl tried to explain the issues, saying to the media, “One of the big challenges we will have over this cycle is to look at whether there is an alternative funding source that we as a whole system can collectively create which will reduce our dependency on public funding, which is something that the Government wants us to do and what we are asking the sports to do as well.”
That has left Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby (GBWR) frustrated, with their special need for funding given the needs of their athletes. That prompted David Pond, the GBWR CEO to speak to the Telegraph, saying “We’re saying our country cannot afford a couple of million quid to give a group of high-dependency athletes an opportunity to represent their country and it’s the only one they’re going to get. I just think it’s outrageous, actually. Any other athlete, frankly, ought to be able to go down the road and get a job, even if it’s in McDonald’s. But most of my athletes will not be in that position. The UK Sport view of ‘no compromise’, I kind of get that, but I just think we’ve got to a really ugly stage with it. If we were a sport which was kicking around in a gym and we were a whole load of no-hopers, I could have understood it. But we’re absolutely not. We’re European champions.”
What is not clear yet is what impact this will have on the future prospects of the British Wheelchair Rugby team who have been dominant in Europe lately. The British team has been improving quickly and fighting to get in to the top tier. This could now open up the door for teams like Sweden to take advantage, but the British athletes have been determined to get on with it and work without the funding but maintain their level, the world championships in Sydney next year will be the first opportunity to see how the funding cuts have affected the sport.
The Semi-Finalists of the European Division B Championships have been set after group play wrapped up on Friday night in Nottwill, Switzerland. Finland will play Switzerland while Poland will take on Austria, with the two winners earning promotion to the elite division.
Finland only just beat out Russia to qualify for the semi-final, in what was a tense pool stage match, the last of the tournament. The two sides matched each other perfectly, sending the match to overtime, where Finland eventually excelled, winning 58-54.
Switzerland will come in to that match as heavy favourites, being the undefeated team in Pool B, they made light work of their opponents. Belgium put up a fight against the Swiss, in a must win match on Friday evening but Switzerland got over the line to win 48-47 and condemn Belgium to another season in the second division.
Poland topped Pool A and will be favorites for their semi-final against Austria as they finished pool play with a strong 44-37 win over Finland. They will also come in to the semi-finals as the most rested side, having not played in Friday’s evening session.
Austria will take on Poland in the second semi-final to close out the Saturday session, Austria has two tight wins, but they got the job done just enough to qualify. On Friday they managed two crucial turnovers to get past Italy 45-43.
The other results on Friday came in the two early matches as Italy continued Belgium’s poor run winning 46-40. Russia also managed a win, beating the Czech Republic 47-45 for a vital win which gave them momentum heading in to the classification rounds.