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. It was later played at Stoke Mandeville hospital by war veterans under Dr. Guttmann’s rehabilitation programme – though it was known as wheelchair netball. 

Wheelchair netball was played by war veterans and citizens in the UK, and as the Stoke Mandeville Games became more popular it was added as a sport to the competition. This was in 1949. Later, in 1955 the game was changed to wheelchair basketball at the Stoke Mandeville games as the touring US wheelchair basketball team the Pan Am Jets participated in the games.

Wheelchair Basketball, a competitive sport

Archive film of Wheelchair Basketball in the 1960s

Wheelchair Basketball, a Paralympic event

The sport was first included at the Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960. The GB Mens team competed in Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964, and in every Paralympic Games since Seoul 1988; the Womens team have competed in seven of the 8 Paralympic Games since Seoul 1988.

Wheelchair Basketball at the Summer Paralympic Games

  • 1960 Rome, Italy – 2 events (both men’s – Class A & B), 12 countries and 97 athletes participated.
  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan - 2 events (both men’s – Class A & B), 4 countries and 53 athletes participated.
  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel - 2 events (men’s & women’s), 14 countries and 46 athletes participated.
  • 1972 Heidelberg, Germany - 2 events (men’s & women’s), 19 countries participated.
  • 1976 Toronto, Canada - 2 events (men’s & women’s), 21 countries participated.
  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands - 2 events (men’s & women’s), 17 countries participated.
  • 1984 New York, USA – 2 events (men’s & women’s), 18 countries participated.
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea – 2 events (men’s & women’s), 17 countries and 280 athletes participated.
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain – 2 events (men’s & women’s), 12 countries and 236 athletes participated.
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA – 2 events (men’s & women’s), 14 countries and 227 athletes participated.
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia – 2 events (men’s & women’s), 12 countries and 240 athletes participated.
  • 2004 Athens, Greece – 2 events (men’s & women’s), 13 countries and 240 athletes participated.
  • 2008 Beijing, China – 2 events (men’s & women’s), 14 countries and 264 athletes participated.
  • 2012 London, UK – 2 events (men’s & women’s), 17 countries and 262 athletes participated.

British Wheelchair Basketball medal winners

  • 1960 Rome, Italy –
    Silver in Men’s Class A.
    Bronze in Men’s Class B.
  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan –
    Silver in Men’s Class A.
  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel –
    Bronze in Men’s.
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA –
    Silver in Men’s.
  • 2004 Athens, Greece –
    Bronze in Men’s.
  • 2008 Beijing, China –
    Bronze in Men’s.

How Wheelchair Basketball has evolved

Originally, in the early Stoke-Mandeville Games wheelchair netball was played, this differs slightly from basketball – there is no dribbling and you must pass the ball to your team mates to move it around the court. Also, in netball there is only one shooter. In 1956 wheelchair basketball was first played at the Games and this is what has been played ever since.

In 1964 basic international rules for wheelchair basketball were adopted from running basketball’s Federation Internationale de Basketball. The rules were only slightly modified to meet the needs of playing the sport in a wheelchair.

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. 

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.

Governing bodies

International wheelchair basketball federation - https://iwbf.org/ 

British Wheelchair Basketball - http://www.gbwba.org.uk/gbwba/index.cfm/about-british-wheelchair-basketball/

Regional clubs

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



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