The rise of the Paralympic Games has increased the fanbase of wheelchair basketball.
With a rich history of trailblazing Australian stars, wheelchair basketball is a Paralympic sport Australia has dominated for decades.
But beyond the Paralympic excellence is the potential for this sport to create a truly inclusive sporting environment for all of us to embrace.
This is a call to action for people of all abilities to play wheelchair basketball.
What is wheelchair basketball?
Wheelchair basketball was developed post World War II to enable veterans with spinal cord injury to compete in sport, providing rehabilitation opportunities.
With a fiercely competitive nature, the sport soon became the Paralympic Games flagship sport.
Australia's prominence started in 1996. Led by a young Troy Sachs, the Australian Rollers came from behind to secure Australia's first gold medal in wheelchair basketball at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games.
To date, the Australian Rollers are the only senior basketball team in Australia to have achieved this ultimate goal.
Sachs, a five-time Paralympic athlete, did the impossible in a wheelchair. He simply regarded the wheelchair as his sporting equipment required to play the game and accordingly, achieved extraordinary things in a wheelchair.
For example, one of the differences between stand up and wheelchair basketball was reasonably described as the inability to jump in wheelchair basketball, but Troy changed this.
He forced his wheelchair to defy gravity, inventing a move called 'The Tilt', which as the name indicates, involves a player propelling one side of the wheelchair in the air to gain a defensive or offensive advantage.
Troy changed the way wheelchair basketball would be viewed forever.
No longer could wheelchair basketball be regarded as a tool for rehabilitation, it was evident this was a fierce, competitive sport requiring a combination of "chair skills" and basketball finesse.
Troy smashed the bar of what could be achieved physically in wheelchair basketball.
However, the potential for wheelchair basketball to break down barriers goes far beyond what can be achieved on the court – this sport has the potential to create true inclusion in environments where exclusion of people with a disability is too often the norm.
To play wheelchair basketball, do you have to have a disability?
While this is the case to represent Australia at the Paralympic level, at a grassroots level people without a disability can also play wheelchair basketball.
As Troy demonstrated in his stellar career, the wheelchair is just a piece of sporting equipment required to play the game. Therefore, wheelchair basketball provides the opportunity for anyone who is able and willing to use a dynamic piece of sporting equipment.
This concept is in essence, universal design.
Here we have a sport where the sporting equipment required to play the game, happens to enable people who cannot run and jump to be on an equal playing field to those who can. In other words, the wheelchair is the equaliser.
It is a sport where a person with a disability can finally play sport with their sibling that does not have a disability. It is a sport where a child with a disability can play sport with their parent without a disability.
In schools, if you cannot run and jump, you are too commonly sidelined in physical education class. Yet, wheelchair basketball is a sport where kids with a disability can finally play sport with their school friends – no adaptations to the rules or sitting on the sidelines required.
Sachs is now charging the way in promoting the importance of people with a disability having access to sport across all levels and highlights the value of reverse inclusion wheelchair basketball in achieving this.
"Inclusivity is about proving opportunities period," Sachs said.
"Opportunities for all to experience.
"Using the wheelchair and basketball as the medium to bridge the opportunity gap gives both able and disabled individuals a chance to participate in [an] activity.
"What able-bodied kid doesn't want to have a go in a wheelchair and what disabled kid doesn't want to play with his mates. Enter a wheelchair and a basketball and inclusivity exist."
Inclusivity starts in schools
Wheelchair basketball, and other para-sports, are particularly important in the school setting if we want to provide equitable opportunities in physical education for students with a disability.
Suncoast Spinners are a wheelchair sports organisation that has rolled out a 'reverse inclusion' initiative, targeting schools in regional South East Queensland on the Sunshine Coast.
In 2021, Suncoast Spinners delivered wheelchair basketball into schools and corporate groups, with 1,274 participants over 2021.
Increasing the presence of sports like wheelchair basketball in school settings promotes inclusion, and also has important benefits leading into the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Firstly, providing para-sports can aid in the identification of wheelchair basketball talent leading into the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It is likely that some of the athletes that will compete for Australia in 2032 have not yet played wheelchair basketball, and what better place to expose them to para-sport than school.
Secondly, wheelchair basketball, or other para-sports, in schools will have an important role in achieving one of the intended legacies of the Games. Paralympics Australia has the important role of developing the next generation of Paralympic athletes who will compete on home soil, but have also committed to working on the legacy of the games ensuring 500,000 more Australians with a disability become physically active.
"To establish greater sport participation by 2032, Paralympics Australia want to engage another 500,000 people with a disability before the Brisbane 2032 Paralympic Games begin," Lynne Anderson, the chief executive of Paralympics Australia said.
"This work will include the delivery of come and try events, community sport forums, subsidised equipment funds, and more classification opportunities.
"We must maximise this once-in-a-generation opportunity to promote the value of participation in sport and its quantifiable social and physical health benefits by aligning with goals of Australia's Long-Term National Health Plan, National Obesity Strategy and National Preventative Health Strategy."
Not only does para-sport in schools work toward this clear legacy goal, if there aren't opportunities in schools for students with a disability to engage in physical activity, we continue to exclude students with a disability learning opportunities afforded to students without a disability.
Schools that reach out to Paralympics Australia and organisations like Suncoast Spinners are taking the first step in providing equitable opportunities for students to play sport and hope it becomes the norm leading up to the 2032 Games.
A call to action
Brisbane and Australia have the unique opportunity to plan for the Paralympic Games, and its legacy, for the next 11 years.
Whilst over a decade away, it is now that we need our Paralympic sports to grow, to enable access for our future Australian wheelchair basketball players who will hit the court in 2032 to be playing the sport.
It is now we need to start the work to create a legacy where every person with a disability in Australia has the right and possibility to engage in competitive social sport.
There are opportunities to play wheelchair basketball in most states and territories in Australia. Many disability sporting organisations run weekly programmes and provide wheelchairs to play in.
By playing wheelchair basketball at the grassroots level, you are helping to grow the foundation for Paralympic pathways. You are contributing to the development of a truly inclusive sporting movement that can work toward a legacy of Australia becoming the most inclusive sporting environment.
You are not taking an opportunity away from a person with a disability, if you are allowing a club or sporting team to provide competitive opportunities for people with impairments that have all too often had limited or no opportunity to play team sport.
Wheelchair basketball is one place where this can start, so we are calling for people of all abilities to join our incredible sporting movement and learn, like Troy Sachs proved, everything is possible in wheelchair basketball.