Birth of the Sport
The sport of wheelchair basketball emerged out of the Second World War (1939-1945). As a result of this global conflict, society was confronted with an unusual number of people with physical disabilities. Following the war, many veterans with disabilities were placed in hospitals for rehabilitation and many still possessed a desire to participate in sports.
The philosophy of the day was adaptation of particular sports as viewed through the eyes of rehabilitation staff. Basketball was perceived to be one of the most adaptable team sports, and was played in various parts of the world in the early 1940’s.
The first documented game of wheelchair basketball was played on November 25, 1946 by a group of veterans in the United States.
Sir Ludwig Guttmann
Sir Ludwig Guttmann is known as the founder of the Paralympic Movement. He was given the task of starting a spinal cord injuries centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, England. The British government funded the operation in 1944 with the view of having the second front assist individuals to cope with their disability, regain dignity and independence that may have been lost, and become happy, healthy and respected members of the community.
Guttmann organized the first Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games in 1948, a competition that featured organized wheelchair sports, including wheelchair netball – a distant cousin of wheelchair basketball. For his efforts, Guttmann was recognized as an early pioneer.
Four years later, in 1952, competitors from the Netherlands joined the Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games and an international movement was born. The annual event would become known as the International Stoke Mandeville Games, a predecessor to the modern-day Paralympic Games.
The Paralympic Games
The Paralympic Games are the pinnacle event for world-class athletes with a physical disability and one of the largest multi-sport competitions in the world. The Paralympic Games, governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), take place every four years in the same year as the Olympic Games.
The first Paralympic Games took place in Rome, Italy in 1960. Wheelchair basketball was one of eight sports that debuted at the first Paralympic Games. The women’s wheelchair basketball competition was introduced at the 1968 Paralympic Games in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Today, wheelchair basketball is one of the premiere sports contested at the Paralympic Summer Games.
The World Championships
The World Wheelchair Basketball Championship, formerly known as the Gold Cup, is an independent international wheelchair basketball competition. The event is governed by the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF), and takes place every four years.
The first World Championship took place in Bruges, Belgium in 1975 and featured competition between 11 men’s teams from North America, Asia and Europe. The first World Championship for Women took place in St. Etienne, France in 1990.
A Junior World Championship for U23 Men was held for the first time in Toronto, Canada in 1997. A Junior World Championship for U25 Women was also introduced in 2011 in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.
A Canadian Perspective
Organized wheelchair basketball has been played in Canada since the 1940s. In the early years there were two teams in Canada, the Montreal Wheelchair Wonders and the Vancouver Dueck Power Glides. Since there were limited opportunities for competitive play, the teams often participated in community demos, inviting able-bodied people to participate using the extra wheelchairs that the teams brought along.
To compete against other established wheelchair basketball teams, the two teams had to travel to the United States to participate in the National Wheelchair Basketball League or to England to participate in the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games (ISMWG). The Montreal team represented Canada in the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1953, marking our nation’s start in world competition, and also represented Canada at the sixth National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in 1954 in New York, N.Y.
Introduction of National Championships (1968-2012)
The National Championships were held in conjunction with all other wheelchair sport championship events from 1968 through 1978. In 1979, wheelchair basketball was organized as an event separate from the rest of wheelchair sports, and the provincial teams competed for the Maxine K. Cooper memorial trophy. That award was retired in 1986, and the teams then competed for the Robert W. Jackson trophy.
Introduction of Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League (CWBL)
The Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League was founded in 1986 and has two primary divisions: the open division and the women’s division. Club teams from across Canada compete for the national title using FIBA/IWBF rules within a classification system of 15 points, where able-bodied athletes are classified as 4.5 and athletes that are more limited in their functional skills are classified as 1.0.