Wheelchair game being ‘stolen’ by more able-bodied players say French after World Cup final loss

FRANCE expressed their concern that more able-bodied participants are “stealing the game” of wheelchair Rugby League after losing the World Cup Final.

Winners of the past two tournaments in 2013 and 2017, France were defeated by hosts England on Friday night.

Robert Fassolette, one of the French founders of the sport, who is now a team official, said it should be “a wheelchair game, for wheelchair users” and he worried that no fully “paraplegic” players will play in future.

Only two able-bodied, non-disabled players are allowed on the pitch in each team at any time, but there are no other classifications of players’ disabilities.

“We should keep in mind that it is a game for wheelchair users,” said Fassolette.

“The game of wheelchair Rugby League is accessible to the ABs (able-bodied) but the ABs should not steal the game. 

“We French maintain a straight position. We have four out of twelve in the squad: four ABs, four moderate disabled amputees, and four full permanent (wheelchair) users/paraplegic. 

“If we don’t maintain that (balance), no paraplegic will keep playing at club level because they would never have a chance to play for the national side. 

“We will maintain that whatever happens in France. And we intend to have the rules clearly modified and preserved for the next World Cup in 2025 in France. 

“We will have a say. I wrote the first rules. I see what is going on. It is not the way we wish. 

“It is very good for television – wonderful, excellent, everyone is pleased. But it should be a wheelchair game, for wheelchair users.”

France head coach Sylvain Crismanovich added that he believed the game was becoming too dangerous: “We’ve gone for the show element rather than the safety of the players. 

“The concern I have got this evening is that there would be no paraplegic spectator in the audience that would look at that game and decide it was a sport for them to take part in.

“I think the tournament has been absolutely fantastic for the players, for the sport, for the media, but I’m very worried about the fact it will probably encourage more able-bodied players to play. 

“If we don’t regulate the game properly, I’m worried about the impact.

“Perhaps I am responsible for France’s defeat tonight because I chose to play three or four paraplegic athletes whereas England didn’t select any.”

In response to those comments, England coach Tom Coyd said: “It sounds like they’re making a fuss because they lost the World Cup.

“I don’t know why you’d want to change the product that’s out there. It’s safe at participation level, you can play Rugby League safely in a wheelchair as a disabled person. 

“I don’t understand why you want to take away what’s just happened out there. This World Cup has changed the world. Let’s keep driving.”