Portway Lifestyle Centre in Oldbury, West Midlands, hosted the Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby team as it trains towards a crucial Quad Nations tournament in March.
The Portway facility in the Black Country is part of the award-winning Sandwell Leisure Trust, which is a centre of excellence for people with disabilities. It was the chosen venue for a four-day camp geared towards an international tournament featuring world champions Japan, 4th-ranked Canada and 7th-ranked France. GB has a world ranking of 5.
It also provided an excellent opportunity for service users with disabilities who attend Portway on a daily basis to see and experience first-hand some highly successful athletes in full flow, and who have previously represented their country in the Paralympic Games.
Portway Lifestyle Centre manager, John Harling, explains: “Our regulars loved it and found it quite inspirational, because these athletes are really at the top of their game and just prove that almost anything is possible with a can-do attitude and spirited determination.
“It’s a natural fit, too, because we’re all about promoting competitive sporting opportunities for people with disabilities, while the game of wheelchair rugby also strives to be inclusive, accessible and supportive of all who wish to be part of the sport.”
Councillor Bill Gavan, Cabinet Member for Leisure and Commonwealth Games, said: “We’re delighted that the Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby (GBWR) team chose Portway for its pre-tournament ‘training camp’ and that it has found the experience here so beneficial. We’re extremely proud of Portway and what it offers. I’d like to wish the team the very best of luck as it gears up for the tournament next month and hopefully bring home a medal.”
Paul Shaw, head coach for GBWR, said: “Sandwell Leisure Trust has been very accommodating, with nothing being too much trouble, and Portway is an excellent, purpose-built facility that’s really geared up to the type and standard of training we require. It was great to showcase what we’re about to the watching crowds, because our sport is rapidly gaining momentum and we’re among the very best in the world now. The March tournament we trained for here will be supercharged and brutally competitive, but will really stand us in good stead for the European Championships in Denmark in August, when we’re defending our title.”
Wheelchair rugby is a London 2012 legacy success story and GBWR has grown the sport from a domestic league, with a single division comprised of just seven teams, to one which now has three divisions providing competition opportunities for 20 teams. This domestic league is internationally recognised for its high level of competition. GBWR, in conjunction with the charity Help for Heroes, also provides coaching and support for the Invictus wheelchair rugby team, where Great Britain took the gold medal in 2015.
Wheelchair rugby brings together elements of rugby, basketball and handball, and is one of the toughest physical contact sports played by disabled athletes. Most wheelchair rugby players have spinal cord injuries, with full or partial paralysis of the legs and partial paralysis of the arms. Other disability groups eligible to compete are cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations, polio, and other neurological conditions.
Under the rules, players are each given a sport classification determined by their specific disability, and teams have to include players with a mixture of classifications. This is important to the ethos of the sport because it enables players with different disabilities to compete together.
Where next? HERE Read our exclusive interview with Invictus Games athlete, Craig Winspear