This past weekend in Zwichau, Germany, Spain’s wheelchair basketball club CD Ilunion defeated Germany’s RSV Lahn-Dill 71 – 45 to be crowned IWBF-Europe Champions Cup winners. Italian club Briantea84 finished third after beating countrymen Santa Lucia Sport Roma 74-64. The placement for all three teams is very prestigious and is European wheelchair basketball’s equivalent to European soccer’s Champions League.
Madrid’s CD Ilunion victory is impressive, having participated in this event 19 times since they were founded 20 years ago. Their win in 2016 is their second in the team’s history, with their first victory coming in 1997. They were runners-up in 2015, 2014, 2003, 1998 and 1996. This team is stacked with talent, including having players from five different national teams. They include Australia’s Bill Latham, Great Britain’s Terry Bywater, Colombia’s Rodney Hawkins, and Spain’s Paul Zarzuela, Alejandro Zarzuela, Jaume Llambi, Rafael Muino, Carlos Vera and Daniel Stix. It also include Spanish women’s national team members Sara Revuelta and Vicky Pérez. A number of these players will be playing for gold at the 2016 Summer Paralympics.
But on Saturday, in a placement match for fifth, a fight broke out outside the venue between fans of Turkey’s Besiktas and Galatasary who were both competing at the IWBF-Europe Champions Cup. Fans of opposing teams are banned from visiting opposing grounds for football and basketball. Around 50 total people were involved in this fight, with 7 being hospitalized for minor injuries. Several people were arrested as a result of this fight that included knives. After consulting with local police, a decision was made by event organizers to cancel the game. Both Turkish teams were surprised by and dismayed at the violence, and the ensuing cancellation of their match. IWBF Europe has issued a statement saying, “IWBF Europe takes this matter extremely seriously and will consider what steps, if any, can be taken to ensure that this incident does not happen again the future.”
Videos of the fight appeared and this story was covered in several entertainment news websites. For many of these sites, it was the first and only time they appear to have covered wheelchair basketball in any context. It will almost certainly be the last. At least one publication used a stock photo from wheelchair rugby, a completely different and unrelated sport. Most real sport fans can differentiate basketball from rugby, but write about people in wheelchair sports for the titillation of readers and that does not matter. USA Today, one of the mainstream news sources running this, has not published a substantive piece about the sport in around a year. This despite the United States’s NWBA hosting their national championships in April, with TIRR Hotwheels claiming the DIII title, the Chicago Skyhawks pulling a major upset in the Junior Division after beating defending four time national champions Georgia’s BlazeSports Junior Hawks, and the Dallas Mavericks beating the Milwaukee Bucks in the Championship Division. A number of players in that competition will be representing the United States in Rio, and it was the last major opportunity to see all the elite club players together before Rio.
Mainstream media tuned in long enough to show wheelchair basketball players exist, show them in a violent context that in no way represents the sport as a whole, and then immediately forgot about them. It’s shocking, terrible and annoying that the only way some of the most elite athletes with disabilities in the world can get attention is when able-bodied idiots stage hooligan violence around their games. It is even more shocking, annoying, terrible and offensive that the achievements of Bill Latham, Terry Bywater, Rodney Hawkins, Spain’s Paul Zarzuela, Alejandro Zarzuela, Jaume Llambi, Rafael Muino, Carlos Vera, Daniel Stix, Sara Revuelta and Vicky Pérez cannot even be recognized inside and outside of the sport because of these idiots. The media attention was to highlight people with disabilities in the worst possible context, and then they went back to pretending they do not exist.
That stupidity is why ParaSport News did not cover this fight when it was first brought to our attention. We have more respect for elite sportspeople than that. We condemn such opportunistic coverage of other media organizations that tuned in long enough to show wheelchair basketball exclusively in a context absent meaning. These sportspeople deserve better than being the media’s punchline, and being remembered exclusively for actions of unrelated idiots.