#10: Murderball Changes its Name to Wheelchair Rugby

Written by Pawel Zbieranowski 

In 1977, a new sport for quadriplegic athletes was invented in Winnipeg, Manitoba named “MURDERBALL”. At the time of its conception, the name was seen as catchy, unique and in many ways, fitting of the sport’s physicality. It was, however, also considered to be controversial, with first concerns regarding the name appearing as early as 1978. 

That year, St. John's Newfoundland was hosting the Canadian National Games, and an application was forwarded for the inclusion of Murderball as a demonstration event. As part of their response, the Games Organizing Committee suggested a change of name to "Quad-Ball". Sue Mount, a physiotherapist with the Toronto Bulldogs Wheelchair Sport Club, communicated with the Organizing Committee on behalf of the Murderball community and successfully persuaded them to keep the name Murderball, which early organizers of the sport found to be attractive and effective in promoting the sport. She also pointed out that no other wheelchair sport name was based on the disability of the athletes. Murderball prevailed, albeit temporarily.  

As the sport grew, more questions began to appear with regards to the violent connotation of the name. This became an issue, particularly when applying for sponsorships, grants and community support.  Various alternate names started to circle including: quad-ball (again with reference to the disability but also because the game is played with four players on the court), rugger, quad-rugby, and team handball. As Murderball began to be introduced in the United States, the name Quad-Rugby was used, as Murderball was not legally permitted in the country. Uncertainty surrounding the name started to affect the identity of the sport.

At a meeting of Ontario Murderball regional representatives, held in Toronto on November 26, 1983, Pawel Zbieranowski initiated an official change of the name for the sport in Ontario. Participants of this meeting voted for "Wheelchair Rugby" with reference to the resemblance of the game to able-bodied rugby. It also presented the game as an inclusive wheelchair sport for quadriplegic athletes as well as those with other types of disabilities, which affected four limbs and were classifiable within the quadriplegic system (i.e. amputees, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and other forms of paralysis due to illness). This name change to Wheelchair Rugby in Ontario was approved by the Ontario Rugby Union and the Ontario Wheelchair Sport Association (OWSA). 

Nationally, however, Murderball was still the official name. The last Canadian "Murderball" Championships were held in Winnipeg, March 30-April 1, 1984. Pawel Zbieranowski submitted a proposal to the Canadian Wheelchair Sport Association (CWSA) 1984 Annual General Meeting for a change in name to Wheelchair Rugby nationally. At that meeting, held in Ottawa on April 29, 1984, the CWSA ratified the official change of name from Murderball to Wheelchair Rugby in Canada.

Internationally, the name of Wheelchair Rugby was confirmed at the time the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation was established in August 1993.