Australia prepares to defend Wheelchair Rugby World Champion title


Australia will host a major international wheelchair rugby tournament 18 years after the sport made history in Sydney.

Reigning Wheelchair Rugby World Champions Australia will be the first nation to defend their title at home.

The Steelers are currently the world’s top-ranked nation after beating Canada in the 2014 tournament in Denmark, and winning back-to-back Paralympic gold medals in London and Rio.

“They are the best team in the world and have been for a long time,” Jenni Cole, chief executive of the 2018 World Championship, told SBS News.

“This is the pinnacle event for Wheelchair Rugby in the world.”

Twelve nations will compete in the tournament but a clash with arch rivals United States will have to wait until the playoff stages after they were drawn in the opposing group.

The Americans, who have won the title four times since 1995, will be looking to avenge their narrow 59-58 loss to the Steelers in the gold medal match of the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

Australia celebrate their gold medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
Australia celebrate their gold medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
Getty Images

Rugby Australia has partnered with hosts Disability Sports Australia in hosting the event, and work cooperatively to develop players at the elite level.

“When you have a world championship on home soil you tend to get a really biased crowd which creates a great atmosphere,” Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle told SBS News.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for Australians to witness a really dynamic sport. Wheelchair rugby is fast, it’s fun and it’s loud,” Ms Castle said.

It's hoped that watching matches live will also appeal to future stars who may have never considered playing previously.

“Kids with a disability need heroes too, and so part of having this championship here at this time is to really inspire future athletes, to inspire women to get involved in sport, and to inspire people with a disability to realise they can do all sorts of things including a crazy hard-hitting sport,” Ms Cole said.

“What people don’t realise is it’s played by men and women together. So here you have a full contact hard sport played by men and women together.”

The last time Australia hosted a major international Wheelchair Rugby tournament was at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics where the sport was first considered as a medal event. The hosts won the silver medal, but there are higher expectations this time around.

“The morale is fantastic [among the team], they are very very very focused on winning this back-to-back world championship at home in front of an Australian crowd.” Ms Cole said.

Trans-Tasman Rugby rivals Australia and New Zealand will clash in the tournament's opening game on August 5.

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