Surprising tactics behind 'crazy' Paralympic sport

2 months ago 28
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Its official name is wheelchair rugby, but those who tune in to the Tokyo Paralympics might know it better by its nickname - 'murderball'.

It's a sport where, to the casual observer, anything seems to be fair game, although Australia's captain, Ryley Batt, would disagree.

The 32-year-old will share the flag bearing duties for tonight's opening ceremony with tennis player Daniela Di Toro, before turning his attention to Australia's quest for a third straight gold medal.

That won't be an easy feat, with the No.1 ranked Australian side facing stiff competition from the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Japan.

Ryley Batt in action for Australia. (Getty)

"We've got a bit of a rivalry going with the Japanese team at the moment, they beat us by one point on home soil in 2018 at our home world championships," Batt told Radio 2GB's Ben Fordham.

"We got them back in 2019 on home soil at the World Cup. It's a great rivalry, it's going to be a cracking game."

Born without legs, Batt needed surgery to separate the webbing in his fingers, and initially rejected the use of a wheelchair, until Paralympian Tom Kennedy visited his school.

"Being born with a disability, it was just normal to me," Batt explained.

"I tried to do everything my friends did, and I think that's what set me up in life, to look at your abilities, not your disabilities.

"I despised people in wheelchairs, I didn't want to be in a wheelchair. I used a skateboard to get around when I was young, because that's what the cool kids did, and I wanted to fit in."

Ryley Batt of Australia and Ayaz Bhuta of Great Britain during the 2015 BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge match. (Getty)

But Kennedy, who won a silver medal at the 2000 Games in wheelchair rugby, was instrumental in convincing Batt to try the sport.

"I didn't want to jump in the wheelchair at the start, but I watched all my able-bodied friends jump in the wheelchairs and bash each other," he explained.

"I sort of wanted to do it, but I couldn't overcome that kryptonite of the wheelchair.

"A few weeks rolled on, and I decided to jump in, and absolutely loved it.

"For the first time in my life I felt like I was on a level playing field with my friends."

While it may look like there's no rules, Batt says that's far from the truth.

"I wish there wasn't any! It's actually a pretty strategic game," he explained.

"The viewers watching from home won't understand a lot of the tactics, but there's reasons why we do what we do.

"Think of it like dodgem cars, you can take out whoever you want, or a little bit like chess, we've got our lower functioning players who are like a pawn, they've almost got to protect the queen.

"It all works in sync, and it's a pretty strategic game."

But strategic doesn't mean things don't get ugly.

"We are a bit crazy sometimes, but what draws me towards wheelchair rugby, or murderball, is the physicality," Batt said.

"It's the only Paralympic sport that encourages athletes to knock each other out of wheelchairs!"

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