Although wheelchair rugby is open to both sexes, fewer than ten per cent of players are women ©Getty Images

Researchers at Loughborough University in Britain have begun a study they hope will increase levels of female participation in wheelchair rugby.

The sport can be played by any individual who has been granted a classification, regardless of gender, but figures from the 2022 World Championships in Denmark indicated that fewer than 10 per cent of registered players identified as female.

"During our recent review of the current strategic plan, it was noted that there wasn't enough emphasis on how we increase female athletes into the sport," World Wheelchair Rugby (WWR) President Richard Allcroft said.

"Having this research take place will underpin our strategic objectives.

Research has been started by the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport at Loughborough in conjunction with WWR, Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby (GBWR), and UK Sport.

Tests have been carried out this weekend during the Wheelchair Rugby Women’s Cup in Paris by Loughborough's Dr. Thomas Rietveld.

"GBWR are proud to be part of this strategic initiative to increase the number of women playing wheelchair rugby not just across GB, but across the world," GBWR chief executive Jason Brisbane said.

"Many people are unaware that wheelchair rugby teams can be comprised of both men and women, this project creates a unique opportunity to gain the insights and learnings needed to attract, retain, and develop women in wheelchair rugby."

Players in wheelchair rugby are classified by a point system from 0.5 to 3.5, depending on restrictions in arm and trunk function that have an impact wheelchair rugby skills.

The current policy in wheelchair rugby states that a team of four players can play with a maximum point score of 8.0.

The research project hopes to measure the impact of impairment on strength and sports-related sprints.

It will also try to determine whether the difference in arm and trunk muscle strength between male and female players is appropriate for the 0.5 point addition currently in the regulations.

In addition, the investigation will examine whether additional changes to the regulations could help involve more female athletes. 

Researchers will be able to draw on work undertaken for other sports.

"This project is a natural progression from some earlier work with WWR that the Peter Harrison Centre was involved with several years ago," Professor of Applied Disability Sport and Peter Harrison Centre director Vicky Tolfrey said.

"We have worked on classification related projects with the Para sports of Para canoe and wheelchair basketball so it’s fantastic that we continue to add further work with WWR to our portfolio."

The findings of the study are expected to be published in late summer 2023.

The project will also provide additional opportunities for women to train together in a camp environment and will finish with a wheelchair rugby symposium in 2025.