Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
As the FIFA Women’s World Cup draws to a close, a group of Kiwi athletes is preparing to compete at the highest level in an international football tournament.
A New Zealand Powerchair Football Team has been invited to compete as a scrimmaging team before the code’s World Cup tournament in Australia, where they will face all competing nations.
Cooper Pulini, Michael Wheeler, Sandra Wilcock, Brennan Massey, and Toby Lipinski leave for Sydney in October.
Pulini, 15, is keen to see how the Kiwis measure up against international competition. NZ’s national side is known as the Silver Strikers.
“It is really exciting to play against all the best countries and players around the world. (It’s) the next best thing to competing in the World Cup.
“I want to play well and see how good we are compared to the rest of the world. This will hopefully help my game and make it better.
“It will also give us the motivation to come back and qualify next time.
Pulini, a Westlake Boys’ High School student, has a spinal cord injury due to a spontaneous bleed in his spine. He is C5-C6 quadriplegic.
His mother Angela Pulini is president of NZ Powerchair Football, and says it is ‘important’ to promote the sport and the athletes’ achievements.
“This will be a great experience for our players to be part of the biggest tournament in the sport. They will be able to gauge their abilities against the best in the world.
“The more profiling we can get, the better to attract players and promote the sport in our own country. We are hoping it will be included in the Paralympics.”
Powerchair football players include people with quadriplegia, neuromuscular conditions, cerebral palsy, and head and spinal cord injuries.
Each team has four players, and the rules are very similar to football rules.
The game is played with a guard attached to the front of the chair and an oversized soccer ball.
The sports chairs are designed to spin very fast to enable power to hit the ball.
North Auckland Powerchair Football coach Gary Vermeulen wants to see the sport promoted across the country, but the cost of specialist chairs is a barrier for some players.
Many use modified powerchairs, as specialist sports chairs are more than $30,000 each.
“A barrier to playing powerchair football is access to funding/sponsorship to help
people to purchase sports chairs.
“Sports chairs are designed specifically for powerchair football but at a cost of over
$30,000, to bring one into NZ from the (United) States, it is a huge barrier.”
The Strikeforce powerchairs are specially made in America, and families face costs for customising the chairs for individual needs, plus shipping and import fees.
Angela Pulini agrees that there is more to be done with regard to the chairs.
“We would love to get funding or sponsorship to help us get chairs for all our clubs around the country.”
Cooper Pulini wants to see more players enjoy the game.
“I wish more people played the game in NZ. We are a small country but there are a lot of people in wheelchairs. I love to play as it is actually really exciting when played at a high level and the only sport that I can play that is fast paced.
“We could do more - it would be good to host an international event and have it televised.”
What is Adaptive Football?
With the country still buzzing from the FIFA Football Women’s World Cup being played on NZ’s doorstep, it’s a good time to take a look at the adaptive versions of the sport, for people with disabilities.
Adaptive football is a thriving sport worldwide, with international leagues for men and women, World Championships and Paralympic inclusion.
There are four main disciplines.
In the North Island, clubs exist in North Auckland (Albany), Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Wellington. In the South Island, the options are Canterbury or Dunedin.
The first national competition was held in Taupo in 2018. Since then, a national team has competed in Australia on several occasions.
The only requirement to join a club is that you’re over 8 years of age and have your own powerchair.
NZ Powerchair Football says the rules are similar to outdoor football with a few variations.
Instead of being played on an outdoor field, the game is played in a gymnasium on a regulation basketball court. Two teams of 4 players use their powerchairs to attack, defend and spin-kick a 33cm football.
The powerchairs are fitted with a guard rail which hits the ball. Players’ feet don’t touch the ball.
7-a-side (also known as CP football)
Seven-aside features players with cerebral palsy, stroke, hemiplegia, traumatic brain injury and mobility impairments.
The sport is played with modified FIFA rules - a reduced field of play, less players, elimination of the offside rule, and one-handed throw-ins.
Matches consist of two 30-minute halves, with a 15-minute half-time break.
5-a-side (also known as blind soccer/football)
This game is exclusively for those with vision impairment. It is currently only available via ‘have-a-go’ days, as there is no formal club or competition in NZ.
Jemma Drake, Community and Programmes Lead for Blind Sport New Zealand, wants to see this change.
“Our accessible sports kits are placed in 18 locations around NZ, along with the blackout goggles, balls and rules/activities, so I would like to think quite a few people have had a try at it ( blind football).
“We also run sessions inside schools and last year delivered a session to NZ Football, giving them a taste of the sport (and what it takes to get sessions up and running).
“We have had blind/partially sighted football sessions at five of the unity pitches on its tour around NZ (Auckland, Hamilton, Dunedin, Wellington and most recently Hawkes’ Bay).
On Saturday a session will be held at the Cloud Auckland fan zone from 4pm.
“We are super keen to get blind football going around NZ, and join in competitively with many other countries around the world. If people are interested in having a kick around, please get in touch with email@example.com.”
There are four outfield players in this version of the game, all wearing blindfolds, plus a sighted or vision-impaired goalkeeper. The ball has a small bell inside, to help vision impaired players find it.
Why blindfolds? Being declared legally blind doesn’t necessarily mean you see total blackness, so the blindfolds ensure all the players are experiencing the game in the same way.
A relatively unknown sport in NZ, amputee football is hugely popular internationally.
The United Kingdom even has a televised league.
Players with one functional leg move around the field at speed using crutches.
The goalkeeper is required to be an upper limb amputee, known as single-arm deficient.
Neither NZ or Australia are members of the World Amputee Football Federation (WAFF).
WAFF rules state that prosthetics are not to be worn during games.
- Visit nzpf.nz to learn more about powerchair football.