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21 May 2014

Asia Para Games to include Wheelchair Rugby for first time

Written by Beau Greenway at IPC


Wheelchair rugby will be included in the Asia Para-Games for the first time ever in October 2014.


The event runs from 18-24 October in Incheon, South Korea, and will feature five national wheelchair rugby teams from the Asian zone.


South Korea will host the No. 5 nation, Japan, as well as new teams from India, Malaysia, and Thailand.


Korean Wheelchair Rugby Association (KWRA) Secretary General, Yun-ho Kim, is excited to have wheelchair rugby included in the event but knows there is still plenty of work left to sustain it.


“We successfully included wheelchair rugby in the Asian Para-Games but it is too soon to feel relieved, it is not settled down yet,” Kim said.


“The International Federation and Korea has tried so hard to make wheelchair rugby an attractive sport, but we need positive support from each participating National Paralympic Committee.”


Kim also said it was a very difficult process to get the sport approved for the competition due to the fact that South Korea and Japan are the only two Asian nations that play the sport on a regular basis.


“We had started to play this game just about 10 years ago,” he said. “Wheelchair rugby is a sport for the disabled which needs support, including national support.


“To make wheelchair rugby an official event of APG, we held a tournament with great support of IWRF and the Korean government in 2013, and that was really hard.


“In that process, we also tried our best to help Malaysia, India and Thailand to participate.


“The situation is not that perfect yet, although they do have an attachment for wheelchair rugby, they have to persuade their government to get some active support. For the same goal, Korea and IWRF will do all that we can do.”


Developing a Korean squad


The KWRA was established in 2004 and at time there were just four wheelchair rugby teams in South Korea. Today, there are almost 20 wheelchair rugby clubs and people are playing the sport in many different ways.


“There are wheelchair rugby clubs for people who don’t have any impairment, for people who have minimum impairment, and for the national team,” Kim said.


The South Korean team would love to win the tournament, but their main goal is to focus on further development of the sport within the country and the Asian zone.


The South Korean players have been training in their home regions but the team will come together in August at the Incheon Sport Training Centre for the Disabled to prepare for the tournament.


President of the Japan Wheelchair Rugby Federation (JWRA), Yasuo Shiozawa commended the effort of the KWRA on making the event possible.


“We are extremely pleased about wheelchair rugby being included in the Asian Para-Games for the first time ever,” Shiozawa said.


Japan the clear favourites


With the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games not too far away, the JWRA has a lot of work ahead of them also.


“Compared to other wheelchair sports including wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis, wheelchair rugby still remains one of the minor wheelchair sports,” Shiozawa said.


“As we are preparing toward Tokyo 2020, we are trying to raise the profile of wheelchair rugby in the country.”


Several new players from the national development squad will travel to the Asian Para-Games to gain some valuable experience ahead of Tokyo 2020. 


Japan will start the tournament as clear favourites due to the amount of experience they have in the sport.