"With 20 years of experience in wheelchair rugby, I will try my best to help Finland in the qualification tournament."
Canadian coach Benoit Labrecque will assist Finland’s new wheelchair rugby coaching staff at the qualification tournament for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games between 16-22 April.
Six teams not yet qualified for Rio 2016 will play against each other in Paris, France, with the top two teams earning tickets to Brazil.
The Finnish wheelchair rugby national team got new coaches in February with Jussi Immonen and Osku Kuutamo taking charge.
At the same time the team got an opportunity to qualify for the Paralympics as Ireland dropped out of the qualification tournament.
Immonen has strong background from basketball coaching and Kuutamo has worked in para-sports for years, but they are relatively inexperienced in wheelchair rugby. That was the reason that the national team decided to call in support.
“With 20 years of experience in wheelchair rugby, I will try my best to help Finland in the qualification tournament and give the new coaching staff as much info as possible,” Labrecque said.
Labrecque was introduced to wheelchair rugby by a friend in a rehabilitation centre in Quebec after his father had a stroke. At first he had to learn a lot by himself watching videos. Then he met legendary wheelchair rugby coach Joe Soares and became his assistant coach for Team Canada in 2000.
After the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Labrecque took charge of Team Canada and led his team to World Championship bronze medals in 2006 and Paralympic bronze medals in 2008. Since that he has coached Switzerland and Sweden and done coaching clinics around the world.
What makes his new role in Finnish wheelchair rugby interesting is that Labrecque is still is a head coach for Sweden. He led his team to Rio 2016 with a breathtaking 58–57 semi final victory over Denmark in the 2015 European Championship in Pajulahti, Finland.
In the gold match of the Euros, Sweden challenged a strong British side to an unexpectedly tight battle but suffered a narrow 48–49 defeat. In Pajulahti, Labrecque proved that he is capable of getting the best out of the players he has. That ability is needed again in Paris in April.
“All the opponents in Paris are really strong and they all have a better ranking than us. We are not one of the favourites but we will try to do our best and see what we will have for results,” Labrecque said. “Finnish players already know how to play wheelchair rugby. It is more what to do and when to do it.”
Finland will meet USA, France, Denmark, Germany and New Zealand in the qualification tournament. More information can be found at the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation’s website.
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs).
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.