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Spotlight on Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair basketball has its origins in the 1940s. Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a German-born British neurologist (and then founder of the Paralympic Games), decided to start a rehabilitation program for patients. His idea was to adapt existing sports to use wheelchairs so that the patients could play. So, in 1944 at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital (Aylesbury, England), he introduced “wheelchair netball”. A couple of years later, in 1946, wheelchair basketball was already very popular in America and was mainly played by World War II disabled veterans. It was in 1949 that Dr. Timothy Nugent founded the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, putting the sport on the map even more. A year later, the first Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games were held in England, and even though they had no more than 26 athletes, they managed to introduce archery, javelin, club throw and shot put as disciplines.  

However, it was not until 1948 that wheelchair netball was introduced in the Games, and in 1952 that it became an international event when a team from the Netherlands showed up to compete against the British team. These would be the first International Stoke-Mandeville Games (ISMG), an event that since then, has been held once a year. In the 1956 Games, wheelchair basketball was introduced, and it was played as we know it today. Full independence and support for the sport was achieved in 1993, when the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) evolved and became the governing body, providing opportunities, organization, regulations, standards, and rules, and to this day, has contributed to the growth of wheelchair basketball around the world for both men’s and women's teams.   

Today, there are more than one hundred National Organizations for Wheelchair Basketball (NOWB) worldwide divided into four zones: Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia Oceania. Wheelchair Basketball players have different disabilities; some of them have paralysis, others have suffered amputations, or have spina bifida, birth defects, amongst others. In order to have a more equal sport, there is a classification system, an international regulation, with which the different levels of disabilities are measured. Even though non-disabled athletes may compete using wheelchairs, they are not allowed to go to international competitions. Every team is comprised of five players and seven substitutes. The court is the same length as a regular basketball court, the hoop is also 10-foot tall, and most of the rules are the same as basketball, except for some modifications.  

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