Loughborough research will aim to increase female participation in wheelchair rugby

wheelchair rugby

Image provided by World Wheelchair Rugby / Damian Veazey

Loughborough University is set to collaborate with World Wheelchair Rugby (WWR), Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby (GBWR), and UK Sport on a study that researchers hope will increase female participant levels in the sport.

Delivered by colleagues from the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport, the project will measure the impact of impairment on strength and sports-related sprints, evaluating the current competition rule that allows an additional 0.5 points for every female athlete on court. 

Current policy in wheelchair rugby states that a team of four players can play with a maximum point score of 8.0.

Wheelchair rugby is an open sport that can be played by any individual who has been classified regardless of their gender. Team coaches can include female athletes on court with the current rules allowing an additional 0.5 points for every female athlete competing.

The research will look to determine whether the difference in arm and trunk muscle strength between male and female players is appropriate for the 0.5-point addition and whether other additional changes could help involve more female athletes.

The project will also provide additional opportunities for women to train together in a camp environment and will conclude with a wheelchair rugby symposium in 2025.

Vicky Tolfrey, Professor of Applied Disability Sport and Director of the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport said: “This project is a natural progression from some earlier work with WWR that the Peter Harrison Centre was involved with several years ago. We have worked on classification related projects with the Para sports of Para canoe and Wheelchair basketball so it’s fantastic that we continue to add further work with WWR to our portfolio.

“There is so much interest in women’s sport at the moment and this is a great way to engage and learn more in how we can make the Para sport more inclusive.”

The number of female athletes in international teams still remains low, with fewer than 10% of registered players identifying as female at the 2022 World Championships in Denmark.

Richard Allcroft, WWR President, said: “During our recent review of the current strategic plan, it was noted that there wasn't enough emphasis on how we increase female athletes into the sport.

“For me, having this research take place will underpin our strategic objectives. The opportunity of this research alongside the Women's Cup in Paris has been achieved by developing our partnership with the Peter Harrison Centre.

“I'd also like to thank the organisers of the event for making this possible and understanding how this may help shape the game in the future.”

Jason Brisbane, CEO of GBWR said: “GBWR are proud to be part of this strategic initiative to increase then number of women playing wheelchair rugby not just across GB, but across the world.

“Many people are unaware that wheelchair rugby teams can be comprised of both men and women. This project creates a unique opportunity to gain the insights and learnings needed to attract, retain, and develop women in wheelchair rugby.”

Jen Browning, International Relations Advisor at UK Sport, added: “Wheelchair rugby is an incredible showcase of skill, grit and determination, but with female athletes underrepresented at all levels of the sport it’s vitally important that we focus on increasing female participation in the sport and ensure that women have equal opportunities to get involved.

“That’s why this project is so exciting, with its emphasis on finding creative new ways to increase women’s participation and remove barriers from grassroots all the way to the Paralympics.

“As part of UK Sport’s ambition to use the power and platform of sport to inspire positive change, we’re excited to support wheelchair rugby to become an even greater showcase of inclusivity by increasing the number of female athletes on court and bringing this incredible sport to a wider, more diverse audience.”

Loughborough’s Dr Thomas Rietveld will lead the testing with athletes from various countries at the upcoming Wheelchair Rugby Women’s Cup in Paris, France.

Dr Viola Altmann, a Visiting Clinical Fellow, and Dr Mike Hutchinson, a Visiting Fellow within the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University are supporting the project.

The first findings of the study are due to be published towards the end of the third quarter of 2023.

The event takes place in Paris on the 10th and 11th of March, with training taking place on Thursday the 9th. More information can be found on the WWR website - https://worldwheelchair.rugby/upcoming-events/

For more information about classification within the Paralympic discipline, please visit the following website page – https://worldwheelchair.rugby/the-game-classifications/