On 7 September I went to the Sport Wales National Centre in Cardiff to attend the Japan vs Great Britain wheelchair rugby match, to which I had been invited. I had not even heard of wheelchair rugby in Japan and had no idea what to expect!
Before the match itself, there was a reception. Among those attending were Mr Yasuo Shiozawa, President of the Japan Wheelchair Rugby Federation, Mrs Mayumi Shiozawa, Mr Hugh Thomas, Honorary Japanese Consul in Wales, and Minister Hiroshi Suzuki, Embassy of Japan. We then took our seats for the match.
The area where the action unfolded resembled a basketball court. Gradually the players came on to the court. I noticed the balls they were carrying were nothing like ordinary rugby balls but were round (volleyballs, in fact).
A team comprises four players, each in a manual wheelchair. The wheelchairs are quite different from normal, having been modified to withstand huge impacts. The object of the game is to carry the ball across the opposing team’s goal line. Two wheels must cross the goal line for a goal to count, and the player must have firm control of the ball when he or she (there are women players) crosses the line. The game is played at high speed and the chairs collide when the players try to grab the ball. A goal is scored when a player carries the ball across the goal line. The action takes place over four eight-minute quarters and the team with the highest number of points at the end of the four quarters is the winner.
It was a really thrilling game. The British team won comfortably, but both sides contributed to the excitement. By the end, I was absolutely won over to wheelchair rugby. I earnestly hope the Japanese wheelchair rugby team will qualify for the London 2012 Paralympics.