Murderball - passed, thrown, batted, rolled, dribbled, or carried across the line

Friday, 9 September 2005

Reporter: Florenz Ronn

Dana Adam Shapiro, the Director of Murderball outside the 774 ABC Melbourne studio

Traditionally, Murderball is a tag game that is commonly played on school grounds. Two equal groups take turns throwing a ball at the opposing team. If the ball hits a member of the team, they are "out" and leave the game. Play continues until all the members of one of the teams are out.

Murderball, the sport, was invented in Canada in the late seventies and it is specifically a full contact sport for quadriplegics (a person who is paralysed in both arms and both legs). The director of the documentary Murderball, Dana Adam Shapiro, told 774’s Richard Stubbs, during a recent interview, that, "they had to change the name from Murderball because they couldn’t get any corporate sponsors and a lot of the doctors were wary about letting their patients play a game called Murderball, so they switched to Quad Rugby".

The international rules of Quad Rugby, or Wheelchair Rugby, as it is also known, are simple as they are complex for players and officials alike. Basically, Wheelchair Rugby is played by two teams of four players each. All players must be in wheelchairs and be classed according to the present classification system. The purpose of each team is to have a player score by touching or crossing the opponent's goal line while maintaining possession of the ball. The ball may be passed, thrown, batted, rolled, dribbled, or carried in any direction subject to the restrictions laid down in the rules, The team scoring the most goals by the end of the game is declared the winner.

Most people would think that Quadriplegia involves no movement. But there are variations of quadriplegia, where you have limited or involuntary movement. Dana Adam Shapiro admitted to 774’s Richard Stubbs, that he had a big misconception during the making of this film, which was that, "quadriplegics couldn’t move at all, that they are all sitting at home under a blanket, with a remote control, drinking their lunch, that they couldn’t do anything like drive cars, have sex, play sport like Murderball".

Players may have various disabilities that preclude their play in able-bodied sport competition. Players must have a combination of upper and lower extremity impairment to be considered as eligible to participate. Most of the players have sustained cervical level spinal injuries and have some type of quadriplegia as a result. Players are given a classification number from one of seven classifications ranging from 0.5 - 3.5. The 0.5 player has the greatest impairment and is comparable to a C5 quadriplegic. Of those eligible to participate, the 3.5 player has the least impairment and is similar to a C7-8 incomplete quadriplegic. Both male and females are encouraged to play, and because of the classification process gender advantages don't exist.

A person’s spine is made up of vertebrae, which can belong to one of 5 segments. These segments are (in order from top to bottom): the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae, and the sacrum and coccyx. Quadriplegia is caused by damage to the spinal cord at a high level (e.g. cervical spine) (or the brain). The injury causes the victim to lose either total or partial use of the arms and legs. The condition is also termed tetraplegia; both terms mean "paralysis of four limbs".

But think disabilities and the Paralympics come to mind, an idea, which started as a sports competition involving World War II veterans with a spinal cord injury in England. Olympic style games for athletes with a disability were organized for the first time in Rome in 1960, now called Paralympics. The movement has grown dramatically since its first days, now ranging from sports such as Archery and Athletics, to Wheelchair Basketball, Wheelchair Dance Sport, Wheelchair Fencing, Wheelchair Curling and Wheelchair Rugby. And it is Wheelchair Rugby, that is the subject of Dana Adam Shapiro’s film Murderball.