Wheelchair basketball, a history

The aftermath of World War II saw the development of wheelchair basketball amongst war veterans. It was first played in 1945 in the USA at two different war veteran hospitals.

Wheelchair netball was played at Stoke Mandeville hospital by war veterans in Dr. Guttmann’s rehabilitation programme, and, as the Stoke Mandeville Games became more popular it was added to the competition in 1949. Wheelchair netball differs from basketball in that there is no dribbling, you must pass the ball to your team mates to move it around the court and there is only one shooter. 

In 1964 basic international rules for wheelchair basketball were introduced, these were a slightly modified form of the Federation Internationale de Basketball rules for running basketball. 

In 1973, the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation (ISMGF) the, then, world governing body for all wheelchair sports, established a sub-section for wheelchair basketball. In 1989 the sub-section became known as the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) and it became an independent organisation in 1993.

Wheelchair basketball, a competitive sport

In 1955, wheelchair netball was replaced with wheelchair basketball at the Stoke Mandeville games, among the participants were the touring US wheelchair basketball team, the Pan Am Jets.

A British team, captained by Terry Willett won the first, unofficial, World Championship, which was held in Bruges, Belgium, in 1973. 

In 1975, Bruges hosted the first official Men’s World Championships, then known as the Gold Cup tournament. The first Women’s World Championships was not held until 1990, when eight teams competed St. Etienne, France.

Wheelchair basketball, a Paralympic sport

The sport was first included at the Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.

The GB Men’s team competed in Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964, and in every Paralympic Games since Seoul 1988; the Women’s team have competed in seven of the 8 Paralympic Games since Seoul 1988.

Wheelchair basketball at the Paralympic Summer Games

  • 1960 Rome, Italy – 2 events, 12 countries participated.
  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan - 2 events, 4 countries participated.
  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel - 2 events, 14 countries participated.
  • 1972 Heidelberg, Germany - 2 events, 19 countries participated.
  • 1976 Toronto, Canada - 2 events, 21 countries participated.
  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands - 2 events, 17 countries participated.
  • 1984 New York, USA/Stoke Mandeville, UK – 2 events, 18 countries participated.
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea – 2 events, 17 countries and 280 athletes (185 men and 95 women) participated.
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain – 2 events, 12 countries and 236 athletes (143 men and 93 women) participated.
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA – 2 events, 14 countries and 227 athletes (132 men and 95 women) participated.
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia – 2 events, 12 countries and 240 athletes (144 men and 96 women) participated.
  • 2004 Athens, Greece – 2 events, 13 countries and 240 athletes (144 men and 96 women) participated.
  • 2008 Beijing, China – 2 events, 14 countries and 264 athletes (144 men and 120 women) participated.
  • 2012 London, UK – 2 events, 17 countries and 262 athletes (142 men and 120 women) participated.

British wheelchair basketball medal winners

  • 1960 Rome, Italy
    Great Britain (Ronnie Foster, Paddy Moran, George Swindlehurst, Dick Thompson, Ron Lawson, John McBride, Dave platten, Bill Shiels) - silver in Men's Tournament Class A. 
    Great Britain (Jimmy Gibson, Tom Guthrie, Russ Scott, Cyril Thomas, Dick Thompson, Brian Bennett, Jim Chadwick, Tommy Wann) - bronze in Men's Tournament Class B.
  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan
    Great Britain (Ronnie Foster, Jimmy Gibson, Paddy Moran, George Swindlehurst, Dick Thompson, Bill Shiels, Brian Bennett, Brian Dickerson, Frank Gilbertson) - silver in Men's Tournament A complete.
  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel
    Great Britain - bronze in Men's Tournament.
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA
    Great Britain (David Bramley, Steven Caine, Mark Cheaney, Calum Gordon, Joseph Jayaratne, Daniel Johnson, Simon Munn, Garry Peel, Colin Price, Nigel Smith, Malcolm Tarkenter, Anthony Woollard) - silver in Men's Tournament.
  • 2004 Athens, Greece
    Great Britain (Ade Adepitan, Andrew Blake, Matt Byrne, Terry Bywater, Peter Finbow, Kevin Hayes, Fred Howley, Stuart Jellows, Simon Munn, Jonathan Pollock, Colin Price, Sinclair Thomas) - bronze in Men's Tournament.
  • 2008 Beijing, China
    Great Britain (Joseph Bestwick, Andrew Blake, Simon Brown, Matthew Byrne, Terence Bywater, Peter Finbow, Jonathan Hall, Kevin Hayes, Abdillah Jama, Simon Munn, Ade Orogbemi, Jon Pollock) - bronze in Men's Tournament.

Some information from earlier Paralympic Games (i.e. 1960-1988) such as relay and team members are not presented in the IPC source data. Therefore, final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be complete. Important note on the definition of participants: Only athletes that appear in the official results books in the section of final results are included in the database and counted towards participant statistics. Data for 2014 and 2016 are accurate. Statistics for previous Games are under review by the IPC. Important note on competition partners: Competition partners eligible for medals are included in the combined participant statistics until 2014. Statistics for 2016 and beyond consider athletes with an impairment and their competition partners separately. 

How wheelchair basketball has evolved

The design of the wheelchairs has undergone significant changes since the beginning of the Paralympics. 

There are very few restrictions, apart from those stipulating the size of the chair, in the regulations, allowing manufacturers to use advanced technologies in the production of modern chairs. 

Development of the design has seen:

  • The introduction of cambered wheels to improve the turning circle and stability when turning sharply.
  • The addition of rear castor wheels to stop athletes falling out backwards.
  • Carbon fibre spokes being used to increase the strength of the wheels.
  • The use of new welding techniques, meaning chairs have fewer, weaker, screw connections and have a lower overall weight.

Rules of wheelchair basketball

Eligible impairment groups are athletes who have physical impairments that result in a lower limb physical limitation and those who are unable to play non-disabled sport due to a long-term permanent injury. It embraces a wide range of disabilities including paraplegia, spina bifida, lower limb amputations, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, not all players are daily wheelchair users. 

The wheelchair basketball classification system is based on the players' functional capacity to complete the skills necessary to play - pushing, pivoting, shooting, rebounding, dribbling, passing and catching. Players are classified by a points system from 1 to 4.5 – 1, 2, 3 and 4 are the recognised classes, with 0.5 classes between for the exceptional cases which do not fit exactly into one class. The 4.5 category represents those with the least physical impairment such as a lower limb permanent injury. 

The total number of points allowed on court at any one time is 14, that is, the total number of points of all five players actually playing on court at any one time.

Wheelchair basketball has very similar rules to running basketball. It is played on a standard sized basketball court and the height of the basket and distances to the lines are the same.

There are two teams, each with five players.

The game is played in 4 quarters of 10 minutes each.

There is a shot clock, meaning that a team must shoot within 24 seconds of getting the ball.

Goals can be attributed 1, 2 or 3 points based on where the goal is scored from.

Players can dribble while wheeling but if they place the ball on their laps they may only push twice before they mush shoot, pass or dribble the ball again.

There are some differences between wheelchair basketball and running basketball which include a no double dribble rule, and the wheelchair being considered part of the player’s body when considering responsibility for contact. Also, there are rules regarding the use of lower limbs to gain an advantage to either steer the chair or gain an advantage – the player must remain seated.

If you'd like to read more about the sport of wheelchair basketball the 'Beginners Guide to Wheelchair Basketball' article can be found on this website
The National Paralympic Heritage Trust are not responsible for the editorial content of external websites.

Governing bodies

The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) is the international governing body. 

British Wheelchair Basketball (BWB), formerly the Great Britain Wheelchair Basketball Association (GBWBA), is the governing body in the United Kingdom and a member of the IWBF Europe Zone.

Regional clubs

The BPA have created an online directory, Parasport, where you can search for and find out about sport and physical activity in your area.

UK wide
Clubs can be found through British Wheelchair Basketballs Find a Club.


  • Brittain, I.S. (2012) From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A History of the Summer Paralympic Games. Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing.

Wheelchair basketball stories

Head and shoulders photo of Simon Munn

Simon Munn, a short biography

Simon represented Great Britain at an astonishing seven Paralympic Games. Read more

Sir Philip Craven and Basketball

"Wheelchair sport and Paralympic sport... had to get more competent (I hate that word 'professional')." Read more

Sir Philip discusses the impact of Barcelona 1992

Sir Philip Craven describes what a tremendous impact Barcelona 1992 had on him. Read more

Terry Willett's Basketball career in the 1960s and 70s

"Look at the chairs we played in! The backs are so low and there are no side guards... You couldn’t change the height of the footrest then." Read more

Lighting the flame at Stoke Mandeville in 1984

Terry Willett tells his story about being selected to light the 1984 Paralympic flame at Stoke Mandeville. Read more

Wheelchair Basketball Championships

“Of course it’s supposed to be a sport of no contact. Well that always amuses us all." Read more