- The GIO 2018 IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championship will be held in Sydney Olympic Park from 5–10 August;
- The Australian Steelers team is currently No.1 in the world rankings and will play the opening game against New Zealand after the Opening Ceremony at 12:30pm on Sunday 5 August;
- Port Macquarie’s Ryley Batt, born with limb deformities, will captain the Australian side in the first ever World Championship to be held in Australia;
- Match tickets and tournament passes are available here.
RYLEY Batt will wheel onto the Wheelchair Rugby World Championship courts knowing he has already overcome his biggest hurdle.
For the Australian captain, life without legs and a Paralympic debut at 15 years old were not as challenging as the mental hurdle of being confined to a wheelchair for his sporting endeavours.
“My overall biggest challenge was overcoming the wheelchair,” Batt said this week after being named captain of the Australian Steelers team to contest the IWRF Rugby World Championship at Sydney Olympic Park from 5-10 August.
“I despised wheelchairs in my youth, I thought they were for disabled people. From an early age I had used prosthetic legs or a skateboard for mobility.”
It wasn’t until Wheelchair Rugby came to his school in Port Macquarie that a 12-year-old Batt relented and embraced the wheelchair as a means to chasing his sporting dreams.
“I was a stubborn kid, I didn’t get into a chair for the first week or two while my mates were beating up on each other. I finally convinced myself to jump into that chair and had an absolutely great time bashing up my able-bodied mates.
“I really enjoyed it and afterwards I said, “Hey, this doesn’t make me look disabled, this is just a fun sport.”
Batt, who still resides in his home town of Port Macquarie on the Mid-North Coast of NSW, has since represented Australia in four Paralympic Games in Wheelchair Rugby, winning two gold medals and one silver medal after competing at Athens 2004 three years after his first-ever game.
“I won a silver medal at Beijing in 2008 which was fantastic and I was very happy with it, but it was time to take a hard look at my career and turn it into a gold,” he said.
“It was a great motivational tool. Turning the silver into a gold at London in 2012 was a huge moment in my life personally.
“After we won the gold medal, I got home and they hosted a parade with thousands of people lining the streets in Port Macquarie. I was sitting on the back of my mustang, and at the end of the parade the Mayor handed me the key to the city.
“It was surreal and a very proud moment and something I will definitely remember forever.”
Batt will experience another proud moment in August when he leads the Australian Steelers wheelchair rugby team at the GIO 2018 IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championship on home soil.
Twelve nations will be vying to be crowned best in the world.
The 12-team tournament at Sydney Olympic Park features two pools of six, with Australia set to meet Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark and Ireland in the qualifying rounds.
The other pool will see Team USA, Canada, Great Britain, France, Columbia and Poland do battle.
Athletes playing wheelchair rugby must meet certain ability classifications to play, ensuring players of all abilities can compete fairly. Men and women can play on the same team.
Wheelchair rugby, sometimes known as Murderball due to the aggressive nature of the on-court collisions, is an inclusive sport that is equal parts brutal and inspiring.
Batt believes the sport can offer disabled people hope by providing a road map for rehabilitation and personal fulfilment.
“I’ve seen many times people who have been in rehab and are thinking, “Oh, my life is over,” and they see us train and play and they love it so much they want to get involved,” Batt said.
“A few years later you see these same people who were in an electric power assisted chair, now in a manual chair. They are a lot stronger, a lot fitter and a lot happier.
“Sport gives these guys hope, and makes them more confident. They are totally different people to those you first meet. It’s amazing to see . . . the sport is giving people life.”
The Sydney Olympic Park event will be the first time the Wheelchair Rugby Championship is staged in Australia, and Batt is hoping for a passionate home crowd to get behind the Steelers as they fight to maintain their rank as best in the world.
“This is the biggest comp I have ever played in Australia. The Paralympics are the biggest event on the calendar for us, but the World Championships are the second biggest,” he said.
“I am very proud to have been named captain and to be leading the national wheelchair rugby team into such a massive tournament in Australia. We are the No.1 team in the world at the moment.
“Hopefully we get the great hometown advantage and can win another world championship.
“I’d love to see as many Australians there as possible. We are a sporting nation, we want to see the stadiums decked out with green and gold.
“We play better when we hear the Aussies chanting.”
You can support these amazing athletes by attending games at the 2018 IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championship at Sydney Olympic Park. Tickets and event information here
Home: Port Macquarie
Family: Married with two children
Record: 273 matches for the Steelers