Close to the feat against Japan (51-53) and beaten on the edge (48-50) by the Australians, the reigning Paralympic champions, the French wheelchair rugby team unabashedly rubs shoulders with the world elite. A remarkable improvement as the French finished eighth at the London Games and seventh in Rio in their first two appearances at the Games.
→ REPORT. In Japan, hope sparked by the Paralympic Games
The narrow path to qualifying for the semi-finals of the Paralympic Games will now pass through a victory this Friday, August 27 against Denmark. “Everything is still possible“, wants to believe Michel Terrefond, the national sports director, who recalls his roadmap: “Twelve years ago, we said to ourselves that we were going to London to see, to Rio to experiment, to Tokyo to win a medal before aiming for gold in Paris in 2024. “
It was following a road accident in 1988 that the manager discovered this discipline. “spectacular “, invented in the 1970s in Canada and the United States by American hockey and footballers who became quadriplegic. Wheelchair rugby was inspired by “handball, basketball, volleyball, rugby, American football and hockey on the go“, making possible reinforcements like that of Sébastien Verdin, 29, one of the top scorers in the French championship, who abandoned the basketball courts.
Familiar with the summits with a team reinforced by women
With around 200 license holders, this young discipline is developing in France. Since the first team was formed in the mid-2000s, 15 clubs – including five professionals – have formed a wheelchair rugby section.
“In Europe, we are the second country in number of clubs after England“, rejoices Michel Terrefond, hoping that during these Games, the media coverage of this sport, “which is practiced with a fairly heavy handicap“, will revive the dynamic slowed down by the Covid-19.
In France, the practice of this collective sport, open since its birth to co-education, remains for the most part very masculine. French clubs have less than ten women in their workforce. “It is possible that in the future, some of them will apply to the France team ”, foresees Michel Terrefond, who does not rule out the opportunity to bring the best into the French team at the Paris Games in 2024. “But they have to be as efficient as the men. We could put quotas, except that for me, that is not integration. As in business, only skill should count!“