My life as a Brixton Baller

It has been nearly 70 years since Sir Ludwig Guttman invented wheelchair basketball. Today the sport, which took the 2012 Paralympic Games by storm, is played by 100,000 people worldwide. This week Brixton Blog caught up with Rukiyah Khatun, a dedicated coach of Brixton’s first ever wheelchair basketball team. Here Rukiyah, who is also Head of Youth and Inclusion at the Tutu Foundation, talks about life with the Brixton Ballers.

Rukiyah coaching a group of wheelchair basketball players (Photo: Brixton Ballers)
Rukiyah coaching a group of wheelchair basketball players (Photo: Brixton Ballers)

I love wheelchair basketball because….

“It’s dynamic, fun and you have to work as a team. At five foot people don’t think of me as a ‘baller’ and that’s why wheelchair basketball is really important to me – it breaks down barriers and images of what sports people should be like. Wheelchair basketball has the benefit of being inclusive which means anybody can play, able-bodied or disabled, young or old, boy or girl.

“I love it when people get into a wheelchair for the first time, their reaction is usually that it feels really normal! I think everyone should feel what it’s like and recognise that those who play wheelchair basketball are not just disabled people in wheelchairs but athletes playing their sport”.

Who are the Brixton Ballers?

“Brixton Ballers are a wheelchair basketball team in the heart of Brixton. We are currently in Division 4 and train at the Brixton Rec every Saturday from 2:00pm-5:00pm. Everyone is welcome to come and have a go. Austin Kentebe (Coach K) started the club in 2012 as there aren’t many wheelchair basketball teams in Brixton and South London. Percy Hutchful (Coach Percy) joined and by September 2013, the club had regular participants, some of whom would travel from all over South London to come and play”.

What are biggest issues facing wheelchair basketball players in Brixton?

“One of the biggest challenges is having the opportunity to practice. Apart from Saturday, there are no other options in Brixton which does not suit everyone. Another challenge is that many people with disabilities do not know about wheelchair basketball so there are potential stars out there who have not tried the sport. Some may not be able to afford to come all the way to Brixton or have difficulty in organising transport. Some of these challenges can be overcome by funding which is something that the coaching team are always working hard away at”.

What made you decide to become a coach?

“As a running player, the next step for me was to coach which I started for the running game. However, I got into a wheelchair for the very first time during the Paralympic Games (I was a Games maker volunteer at the Village) and it was pretty awesome. Also watching the games and meeting some of the wheelchair basketball gold medallists really inspired me to put my love of basketball, and my desire to coach towards wheelchair basketball. So over the next year I went on several training courses, joined the coaching team at Brixton Ballers and have now been coaching for nearly 2 years”.

How much of an impact did London 2012 have on the game?

“The London 2012 Paralympic Games had a massive impact on the sport. It made wheelchair basketball visible. It provided a massive audience with access to sports they might not have had any desire to watch. Many of them liked what they saw. The intensity of wheelchair basketball games during the Paralympics was fantastic. Some of the best teams around the world helped increase the game’s popularity as people recognised just how hard these athletes work. The Paralympic Games are part of why I got into wheelchair basketball coaching, so I know it had an impact on me”.

What do you hope the Brixton Ballers will achieve this year?

“I hope we win the Division 4 league and move up to Division 3 where the competition is harder. This will really challenge us as a team in a positive way. I hope we continue to create opportunities for people to try the sport, to help develop the community as well as raise the profile of the club. One of the things I would like to see is that the club becomes an official charity. One day I would love to see the players that started off in Brixton, in the Paralympics playing for their nation”.

For details on Brixton Ballers’ upcoming matches follow @brixtonballers or follow Rukiyah on Twitter @RukiyahK.