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.
Australia has successfully defended their London 2012 Wheelchair Rugby crown, winning a thrilling double overtime match against the United States. The win marks the first time Australia has ever beaten the United States in a competitive match, while Japan picked up their first ever wheelchair rugby medal.
Japan managed their first ever Paralympic wheelchair rugby medal as Japan managed to hold on for a win in the bronze medal match. Japan managed to defeat Canada 52-50 completing what has been an impressive two years for the Japanese side.
It was a strong start from Japan as they forced four Canadian turnovers in the first quarter to take a 17-13 lead. In the second quarter Canada looked to improve, getting better but still trailing heavily at the half 29-25.
The third quarter was where Canada really started to go for the match and try and get back in to the match. With just 0.2 seconds on the clock Miranda Biletski rolled over the line to cut the Japan lead to 40-38 heading in to the final quarter.
But in the final quarter Japan did the job, they held out Canada and maintained their two goal lead, winning 52-50. Yet again the high pointers Daisuke Ikezaki and Yukinobu Ike were the stars of the side, combining for 37 goals.
Australia had never beaten the United States in a competitive match before Sunday’s final, which had the United States confident. But Australia came in as defending champions and after a strong tournament felt confident of beating that history.
The two top ranked sides in the world could not be separated, with the lead changing throughout the match. Australia thought they’d managed to seal the win when they forced a turnover late in the fourth quarter but the United States pushed back and scored twice late to level it at 49 to send the match to overtime.
The United States won the opening tip of overtime and so they controlled the ball throughout the first period. The Steelers were able to score with under two seconds when Ryley Batt found Chris Bond who just got over the line to send it to a second period of overtime.
Australia had first possession in the second period of overtime and with little time to go, the USA had one last chance. Australia was able to heavily push out Josh Wheeler, giving Australia possession with 2.3 seconds remaining which the Steelers wore down to claim their second straight gold medal and first win over the United States in a competitive match.
Classification: Athletes are rated on a scale of 0.5 to 3.5 the lower the score, the lower the function. The total score of players on the court can be at most 8.0
Venue: Rio Olympic Arena
Athlete Quota: 96 (eight teams)
International Federation: International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF)
Defending Champion: Australia
It’s been a lean few years for Australia since they won the World Championships two years ago, completing a double of tournaments they’d never won before. But in recent months the Steelers have started to gain momentum, raising back up to the number two position in the World Rankings.
That number one world ranking position is taken by a familiar nation, the United States who have spent the last four years trying to get back to the top after winning only bronze in London four years ago. Looking like going through four years without a major trophy, the Eagles regrouped and managed to win the third biggest tournament in wheelchair rugby, the Canada Cup in June, pushing them up to the world number one ranking.
The silver medalists from four years ago, Canada have been on a disappointing run, failing to even medal in their own tournament for the first time in 12 years. That said, Canada did manage to beat the United States on their way to Para Pan-American Games gold, and have proved that they have the edge over their North American rivals in major competitions, knocking them out at the semi-finals four years ago.
That may leave the door open for two teams that missed out on medals in London to get on the podium in Rio. Japan are in the middle of best ever form as they claimed the Asia/Oceania Zonal title for the first ever time and sit third in the World Rankings while Great Britain could continue their improvement, sitting fifth in the World Rankings.
The Wheelchair Rugby schedule for the Rio Paralympics was announced by the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) on Friday. After collaborating with the local organizing committee everything has been finalized for the competition which starts on the seventh day of the Paralympic Games, September 14th.
The schedule is also working with the Olympic Broadcasting Service, in an effort to get more coverage of the sport on the national broadcasters. There is also a desire to create a schedule the local fans will enjoy, and so Brazil has been given the headline slot on day one of competition.
Scheduling events like this are a challenge as there is the need to balance what the broadcasters want and competitive balance. With five days to play the whole tournament it is difficult to make a schedule that does not affect team performance.
The tournament will open with a bang with a fierce rivalry, involving the defending champions, will get things started. Australia will take on Great Britain in another edition of the Smashes, with Australia seeking to avenge a recent loss while GB seek to get their first win over Australia at the Paralympic Games.
The final match of the first day will be the Paralympic Games debut of the hosts when Brazil take on 2012 silver medallists, Canada. A match that could well decide who advances from that pool will be in the early session of day two when Canada takes on Great Britain.
Brazil again takes center stage to end the second day of group play, facing Australia, the defending champions. The final day of group play sees the replays of the London medal matches with the USA taking on Japan before the last match in group play will be a replay of London’s gold medal match when Australia takes on Canada.
The Semi-Finals will take place on Saturday, with first from Pool A playing second from Pool B and vice versa. The medal matches will be the Sunday matches, with the gold medal match taking place at 12:30pm.
Will Australia defend their gold? Who will be in that Sunday match? Let us know in the comments and be sure to share and follow us for all the latest Paralympic Sports news.
Event Competition Schedule
Day 07 14 September, 2016 Wednesday
Session WR01 Start:10:30 End:14:15 Carioca Arena 1
10:30-12:00 Preliminary Match 1 Australia vs Great Britain
12:45-14:15 Preliminary Match 2 United States of America vs France
Session WR02 Start:16:00 End:17:30 Carioca Arena 1
16:00-17:30 Preliminary Match 3 Japan vs Sweden
Session WR03 Start:19:15 End:20:45 Carioca Arena 1
19:15-20:45 Preliminary Match 4 Canada vs Brazil
10:30-12:00 Preliminary Match 5 Sweden vs United States of America
12:45-14:15 Preliminary Match 6 Great Britain vs Canada
Session WR05 Start:16:00 End:17:30 Carioca Arena 1 16:00-17:30 Preliminary Match 7 Japan vs France
Session WR06 Start:19:15 End:20:45 Carioca Arena 1
19:15 20:45 Preliminary Match 8 Australia vs Brazil
10:30-12:00 Preliminary Match 9 France vs Sweden
12:45-14:15 Preliminary Match 10 Brazil vs. Great Britain
Session WR08 Start:16:00 End:17:30 Carioca Arena 1 16:00-17:30 Preliminary Match 11 United States of America vs Japan
Session WR09 Start:19:15 End:20:45 Carioca Arena 1
19:15 20:45 Preliminary Match 12 Canada vs Australia