Wheelchair Rugby World Championship opens in Denmark, promises plenty of excitement

The World Championship, taking place from 10-16 October, features 12 teams, including defending champions Japan and Paralympic gold medallists Great Britain 10 Oct 2022
A male wheelchair rugby player in a yellow jersey carries the ball, chased by two players.
A total of 46 games will be played during the week-long tournament in Vejle.
ⒸAlex Pantling/Getty Images
By Ayano Shimizu | For the IPC

The 2022 Wheelchair Rugby World Championship got underway on Monday, 10 October in the Danish city of Vejle with 12 of the world’s best teams hunting for gold.

As several teams are in real contention for a medal, the tournament promises a week of exciting action. More than 130 players, including a record 13 women, will compete at the event, which will also feature a quarterfinal stage for the first time at the world championships level.

“I’m expecting this to be the deepest world championships ever," said Kevin Orr, head coach of defending champions Japan. "The 12 teams here are all very strong, I think the top eight particularly are all very strong, and the fact that there are quarterfinals here is going to make that even more interesting."

Japan building momentum for Paris 2024

Japan, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic bronze medallists, are coming into the world championship as world No. 1 and hoping to build momentum for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games by winning the tournament.

The squad features veteran players, including captain Yukinobu Ike and Daisuke Ikezaki, who led the team to victory in their first world championship four years ago in Sydney. 

Since losing to Great Britain in the semifinals at Tokyo 2020, the team members have reviewed their defence technique with an eye on the top prize in the French capital.

“At the previous world championship, we wanted to become the best team ahead of the Tokyo Games. It was a great experience that we were able to do just that, but Tokyo 2020 showed that winning a world championship doesn’t necessarily lead to a Paralympic gold,” Ike said.

“So we want to take whatever we can learn from this tournament and improve in the two years leading up to Paris,” he added.

Hosts Japan finished with a bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. @Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images for New Zealand Paralympic Committee

Japan expect tough competition in Pool B from two-time Paralympic champions Australia, as well as Canada and Denmark who have recently shown tremendous growth.

Brazil are making their world championship debut, while Colombia are playing in the tournament for the second time.

“We can’t feel safe no matter who we face. It’s a group that is not easy to advance from,” Ike said. “Many teams have young players who have really grown since Tokyo, making this world championship a very close competition. I want to take the top spot (of the podium) with my teammates again.”

Paralympic champions seeking first title

In Pool A, Great Britain are on a quest to make history again.

After becoming the first-ever Paralympic champions from Europe last year in Tokyo, they now have the chance to repeat history as the first world champions from the continent.

Great Britain have missed the podium at every world championship since the inaugural tournament in 1995.

Pool A also includes four-time world champions USA, reigning European champions France, as well as New Zealand, Germany and Switzerland.

“Within the top four in the world and a few European teams, like France and Denmark that are now pushing up there as well, the gaps are getting smaller. Top six or seven teams in the world are really going to battle it out, which is absolutely unbelievable,” said Kylie Grimes, the only female player on the Great Britain team.

“At the end of the day, every game of rugby I play and the team play, we just want to play better and better."

While Great Britain defeated the United States in the Paralympic final at Tokyo 2020, the USA team, co-captained by Chuck Aoki and Chuck Melton, have undergone numerous changes since then.

Meanwhile, France are riding a wave of momentum after beating Great Britain en route to the European Championship Division A title in March, as they prepare to delight their fans in two years’ time at the home Paralympic Games.

More women in the game

Thirteen female players – the most at any wheelchair rugby world championship – have arrived in Vejle to lift their teams to higher grounds. It is more than double the number of women who competed in 2018.

Eight of the 12 teams have named at least one woman to their squad, with world No. 3 Australia selecting three female players – Shae Graham, Ella Sabljak and Emilie Miller.

Grimes, who started playing rugby in 2011, said: “For me, to see the representation is just unbelievable. To see 13 at one world championships is the most we’ve ever had. It’s making history and it’s unbelievable and just incredible.”

The pool matches will take place from 10-13 October, with the top four teams from each pool advancing to the quarterfinals.