Rio Paralympics: ‘Murderball’ and other reasons you should watch

You only have to watch murder ball for a few seconds to realize they’re not kidding around — it’s full-on rough.

And given the astonishing pace and accuracy of the five-a-side soccer players belies the fact that all of the players are blind or partially sighted.

With poor ticket sales and serious funding issues, the Rio Paralympics are being scaled back, and as a result some countries may not be able to send athletes. And Russia will not be there at all due to the blanket ban imposed following allegations of state-sponsored doping.

But in the midst of the biggest crisis to face the Paralympic Games in its 56-year history, it is easy to lose sight of the sporting achievements and entertainment offered by the athletes.

Paralympic sports are fast, exciting and fiercely competitive.

Here are some events that might surprise you…

‘Murderball’

It’s not an idle nickname. This is wheelchair rugby, a full contact sport and every bit as aggressive as the able-bodied equivalent.

The International Wheelchair Rugby Federation describes it as a game of “invasion and evasion” — the idea being to carry the ball across the opposition goal line by dribbling or passing it every 10 seconds. Hitting and blocking chairs is permitted, though not from behind — and players are often tipped out in the heat of the action.

Mixed teams of men and women are 12-strong but only four players can be on court at any one time.

You may spot a difference in the wheelchairs. Those used in defense are longer with a wide bumper to block and hold opponents while attackers’ chairs are shorter with rounded wings so they are easier to maneuver.

The game was invented in the 1970s by disabled athletes looking for an alternative sport, and after an exhibition event at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games it made its official debut at Sydney in 2000.

There is great rivalry between the US and Canadian teams who are two of the leading nations in the sport and became the central feature of a 2005 documentary called simply “Murderball.”

Defending Paralympic champion Australia will face Great Britain in the opening game of the Rio tournament, while London 2012 silver medalist Canada takes on host Brazil.

Five-a-side football

Only the goalkeeper in this game is sighted — everyone else is visually impaired.

Outfield players have to wear eye shades to ensure fairness so they are all effectively playing blind. But you would hardly know it. The ball appears glued to their feet and the passes have astonishing accuracy.

So how on Earth do they do it? The players rely on the sound of the ball, which rattles when it moves, and the calls of their team mates.

The coaches also play an important role, as the Royal National College for the Blind explains on its website. They stand around the pitch directing the play, while the goalkeeper organizes the defense.

Acoustic boards around the perimeter create an echo that allows the footballers to find each other’s positions by clicking their fingers, and, if a penalty is awarded, a coach taps the frame of the goal to help the player locate the frame and place the shot.

Now imagine it for yourself — or better still, try it. It takes incredible skill and practice to be able to play but provides a gripping and entertaining contest for spectators.

The rivalry between Brazil and Argentina, so evident in the 11-a-side game, is also keen in this competition. The Brazilians are the current world champions and top the world rankings. Argentina is currently second.

Brazil’s Tiago Da Silva is already looking forward to the competition.

“A final against Argentina might be the dreamed final, but there are still many other competitive teams, such as China. We will go into Rio ready to fight for the title,” he told the Paralympics website.

Brazil also boasts a superstar of the game. Known as Jefinho and the Pele of Paralympic five-a-side, he is a two-time Paralympic Games champion and carried the Rio Olympic torch in Salvador.

Eight teams will battle it out for gold in Rio with the opening match on September 7.

Track athletics

The Olympics has Usain Bolt — the Paralympics has Jason Smyth.

The visually impaired Irish runner is the fastest Paralympian ever with a blistering time of 10.46 seconds for the 100 meters — and he thinks he can run faster.

He told the Rio 2016 website that he is determined to win gold again after his record-breaking London 2012 victory.

“I feel like there is a potential to run quicker than I have in the last Paralympic Games. I intend to — what happens on the day is always a different thing, but I’m optimistic that I can,” he said.

The Paralympian sprinters are not far behind their Olympic colleagues — Smyth was only just outside the qualifying time for the Rio Olympics — which makes the track events equally as exciting.

Cuba’s Omara Durand, another visually impaired sprinter, is the world record holder for the women’s 100 meters in a time of 11.48 seconds and will be aiming for gold in multiple events in Rio.

Watch out too for the athletes who run with prosthetic limbs.

Briton Jonnie Peacock and Brazilian Alan Oliveira will all be scrapping for the medals in Rio after American Richard Browne pulled out through injury.

Peacock has already said he is relishing the rivalry so get set for a very fast race — and a possible new world record.

If you like athletics you will love the track battles at the Rio Paralympics.

Sitting volleyball

You might think playing volley ball sitting down would slow it down a bit — but you would be wrong. It’s frenetic.

Each team is allowed six players on the court — which is a smaller area than its standing counterpart — and the net is very low.

Teams are allowed three passes to set up an attack before the ball has to cross the net.

The defending Paralympic champion in the men’s game is Bosnia and Herzegovina but watch for the Chinese team which became world champion in 2014, though currently ranked only seven.

Sitting volleyball has a long history and is a very popular sport. It emerged in the 1950s and has featured in the Paralympics since 1980. Eight men’s and eight women’s teams will compete in Rio and the host Brazil will feature in both.

Goalball

Goalball is one you may have not come across before and it’s an intriguing sport to watch — perhaps chiefly because players have to defend a huge goal.

It’s one of only two events that doesn’t have an Olympic equivalent — the other being boccia — and was developed to help rehabilitate visually impaired World War II veterans.

Players wear blackout masks to ensure fairness and try to hurl a ball at high speed, in the fashion of a 10-pin bowler, and aimed the opposition net which runs across the width of the court.

Teams can only field three players in an attempt to block the ball and do so by listening to the bells contained inside. Spectators have to maintain total silence during play so the athletes can react to the oncoming shots.

It was introduced into the Paralympics in Toronto in 1976. Ten teams of each gender will compete in Rio.

Host Brazil has a star in 22-year-old Leomon Moreno da Silva who was top scorer with 51 goals in the 2014 World Cup.

The game is great fun to watch and another one where you can’t help wondering how they do it.