Wheelchair rugby competition to be fierce at Parapan American Games

Canadian Paralympic Committee

November 09, 2023

Four of the top-12 teams in the world in battle for Paralympic Games spot


The depth in international wheelchair rugby just keeps increasing and nowhere will it be more apparent than at the 2023 Parapan American Games in Santiago.

The defending champion Americans, world championship silver medallists last year but now ranked number-one in the world, are the favourites at the tournament which has a berth for the 2024 Paralympic Games awarded to the victor.

Canada, ranked fifth internationally, will field a very experienced team that includes superstar Zak Madell of Okotoks, Alta., arguably the best player in the world and right now in the prime of his career at age 29. He was named tournament MVP at the Wheelchair Rugby Cup last month where Canada took silver, its best performance on the international stage in several years.

The first two Parapan Am Games finals (the sport joined the Games in 2015 in Toronto) were between the Canadians and Americans. Canada took the gold at home in 2015 to earn its ticket to Rio 2016. The Americans got revenge in 2019, forcing Canada to win a last chance qualifier to get its ticket to Tokyo 2020.

Meanwhile Colombia and Brazil are still in a tug of war as the South American superpowers at major events, although the Colombians have the edge. They beat Brazil for bronze (by two points and three points, respectively) at the last two Parapan Ams and were eighth at the 2022 worlds compared to 12th for the Brazilians.

Less than 10 years ago there was not one South American country at the worlds.

Madell says the game, a sport invented by Canadians and originally called murderball, keeps expanding internationally.

“We’re seeing new countries every year taking up the sport,” said Madell, who lost his fingers and legs to a septic staph infection at age 10. “There are big tournaments going on in South America, and Great Britain was the first European team to ever win a Paralympic medal, let alone become Paralympic champions (at Tokyo 2020).”

“I don’t think Canada’s dropped off by any means. It’s definitely been very exciting to see a lot of new athletes emerging both at home and internationally.”

Madell is part of a veteran laden 12-member squad with Cody Caldwell of Peterborough, Ont., Patrice Dagenais of Embrun, Ont., Trevor Hirschfield of Parksville, B.C., Travis Murao of Toronto, Eric Rodrigues of Mississauga, Ont., Patrice Simard of Quebec City, and Mike Whitehead of Windsor, Ont. all members of the last two Parapan Am teams as well.

“The goal is very straightforward; we want to win the competition,” Canada’s head coach Patrick Côté told Peterborough Today. “We’ve never lost to a South American team, the U.S. is going through a bit of a rebuild right now, so our goal is to win and qualify for the 2024 Paralympic Games.”

Preliminary play in Santiago runs from November 18-21, with the semifinals November 22 and the medal matches on November 23.

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