Wheelchair Basketball – Being There

Having been to Equestrian and the Olympic Park at London 2012, Tom Bodell went to North Greenwich for his first experience of Wheelchair Basketball in the Paralympics, where, for just ten pounds, he saw Team GB compete .

It’s fair to say that my relationship with basketball is minimal, save for the odd lesson at secondary school and the even more infrequent dabble with the NBA video game. That isn’t to say that I don’t like basketball, it’s a sport which interests me but it does happen to fall at the bottom of a long list of other sports.

However, with a spare Friday on my hands & possibly my last chance to frequent an Olympic or Paralympic event in my lifetime, £10 seemed a steal.
I was naturally disappointed to find out that the wheelchair basketball was being held at the North Greenwich Arena, nee O2 Arena, dependent on your sponsorship obligations! To clear up any confusion, basketball is also held in the Olympic Park as I initially suspected but if nothing else I had the chance to see what had come of London’s Millennium White Horse.There’s certainly no enormous replica of a beating heart, a vivid memory of my only previous trip in 2000, but plenty of heart is certainly shown on the court.

Set in an impressive arena set in the middle of the O2, wheelchair basketball is not a sport for the faint-hearted competitor. In the first match of the morning local girl, Watford-born Helen Freeman, spent most of the game on the floor and yet still ran the show as Team GB overcame their Mexican counterparts.

The South Americans were certainly not as nimble as Freeman and co. and we’re at the distinct disadvantage of not ring able to haul themselves back into their chairs after a collision, instead waiting for their coach to relieve them.

As with all events at London 2012 the assumed level of expertise amongst the crowd is zero, and oft rightly-so, so the basics as well as some of the finer details are explained beforehand.

The pace of the games, particularly the men’s is frenetic. The Poland – Germany match was the highlight with the Polish no. 5 Filipski and the German 11 Passimwe both posting high individual scores to extend their impressive showings respectively throughout the duration of the Games.

I did for the first time catch sight of the exorbitant menu having been there from before 8am until late afternoon. However with just two days of competition left it seems a rather irrelevant postscript to advise making eating arrangements outside the venues.

It is rather ‘Americanised’ if you like, but with a sport played predominantly on the other side of the pond that was always inevitable. Still, the ‘kiss-cam’ and Mexican waves help to keep the crowd enthused during the 45 minute intervals between matches.

Ten pounds well spent, and when you calculate the cost of the all-day travel card that’s thrown in, there’s still no reason to gripe. All together now, a big pat on the back for London.

Tom Bodell


The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ e-book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to preview for free and download for £4.27 from Amazon and Smashwords. It documents football at the highest level and the journey of travelling around Europe in a sport where money is now valued alongside trophies. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.