Hamburg hosts the world - Rollstuhlbasketball Weltmeisterschaft 2018
Steve Goldberg's Wheel World
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Hamburg hosts the world - Rollstuhlbasketball Weltmeisterschaft 2018

CHARLOTTE (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - In just a few weeks, Germany's second largest city will be hosting the world's largest wheelchair basketball event.

The Rollstuhlbasketball Weltmeisterschaft 2018, as it rolls off the tongue in Hamburg, is yet another world class event for a city that has hosted the FIFA World Cup and UEFA Europa Cup Final, and heavyweight boxing world title fights among major sporting endeavors.

Most recently, Hamburg hosted the IWBF Europe Champions League Final Four, half of which were German - RBBL champions RSB Thuringia Bulls and Cup winners RSV Lahn-Dill, along with Italy's Unipol Briantea '84 Cantu and the Spanish champions CD Ilunion Madrid.

Hamburg is not unfamiliar with big sporting events on wheels. Photo courtesy of / Witters GmbH Sports photography    

An aspirational city, Hamburg was making noise about joining the race to host the 2024 Olympics/Paralympics, which were eventually awarded to Paris, but a referendum in 2015, showed that a majority of Hamburg voters did not support that extremely ambitious plan. Nonetheless, that's what seeded the idea to host this world championship.

"For this reason, the most dynamic sport in the Paralympic program was chosen to present Paralympic sport to the people of Hamburg," says Anthony Kahlfeldt, Managing Director and CEO of the WM 2018 Wheelchair Basketball gGmbH.


And it's being treated with the respect that an event bringing the best 28 men's and women's national teams should command.

In a news release. Petra Hedorfer, Chair of the German National Tourist Board’s (GNTB) Board of Directors, said: "Since the Football World Cup 2006, Germany has enjoyed an excellent reputation as a venue for international sporting events. The Wheelchair Basketball World Cup is a great way to communicate this brand in conjunction with our high standard of barrier-free travel worldwide."

Kahlfeldt added, "With the combination of sports, music and inclusion, we want to particularly appeal to younger people in wheelchair basketball and inclusion. The cooperation with the GNTB is a wonderful opportunity to market our sport and the World Cup via international networks."  

None of his words surprise me. I learned well during my first immersion into Paralympic sport as chief press officer for the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games just how strong the respect of Germany was for it's "other" world-class athletes. Deutsche Haus was the only national hospitality spot that stayed open for both the Olympics and Paralympics. Their media team to support the athletes was first rate and always there to help. The organization of their national wheelchair basketball teams over the past several Paralympiads is the envy of other nations.

It doesn't hurt that basketball overall continues to grow in Germany - there were five Germans in the NBA this past season and the national team went 6-0 in the first found of FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifying - or that Hamburg is already a basketball town.  The primary venue for the tournament is the Arena in the Wilhelmsburg neighborhood, which is home court for the Hamburg Towers, a professional team, currently playing in the second-tier ProA.

The German professional wheelchair basketball league, the Rollstuhlbasketball-Bundesliga (RBBL), is arguably the NBA of wheelchair basketball, attracting top talent from around the world to join their cadre of home-grown world-class athletes. 

BG Baskets Hamburg competes in the 1. RBBL and features three national team players in Mareike Miller, Anne Patzwald and Maya Lindholm (who plays for BG's 2nd division team) as well as Polish international Marcin Balercowski, Asael Shabo of Israel and Ali Ahmadi from Iran.

So what's Za-donk!

In a true homage to the next big event, the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, Hamburg 2018 is paying it forward with a creative and fully developed Japanese manga-inspired marketing campaign titled Za-Donk!, which I'm told, is the sound a basketball makes when hitting the court in the manga universe.

Immediately identifiable and millennial cool, Kahlfeldt broke down the stars of the campaign.

"We wanted to do something different right from the start," he said. "We wanted to think outside the box and create sustained awareness."

"The four heroes - Jenny, Tom, Hiro and Amber - accompany us on the way to the World Cup. With many cool stories and a look and feel in manga style that also symbolizes the way from Rio to Tokyo, the former and future venues of the Paralympic Games. The logo itself already invites people to think about it."

You can learn more about the campaign here


Breaking down barriers

Organizers are clear in their mission to break down barriers, making Hamburg more physically accessible and the game itself to the broader spectrum of fans.

"The venue can be easily and barrier-free reached by public transport," says Kahlfeldt, who has a professional cycling background and who served as assistant Chef de Mission for the German Paralympic team in Rio.

"People with and without disabilities will find it very easy to attend the event. We expect more than 50,000 visitors and hope for an inspiring atmosphere in the arena and in the Festival program with many sport activities, cultural and music acts. It is to become the Woodstock Festival of disabled sports."

Hamburg is already a progressive city when it comes to barrier-free mobility and hopes that the wheelchair basketball world championship will further promote that. Photo courtesy of / Hamburg Tourismus GmbH  

"Hamburg is a sports city with an unbelievable number of offers in professional sports. Wheelchair basketball has therefore been a marginal sport in Hamburg before. 150 to 250 people watched the games of the first league team. We absolutely want to change that and develop wheelchair basketball into a spectator magnet in the city."

Helping that effort are two German online magazines that follow wheelchair basketball, the sport-specific Rollt. and the broader wheelchair focus of RollingPlanet

"We really want to put wheelchair basketball in the middle of society. We want to create an entity that interests people and makes them say to each other in the evening after the visit, 'That's where I have to go again tomorrow'. Only in this way will we create a legacy that will make disabled sport more interesting and more modern in the future."

With that philosophy, no matter who departs with the trophies at the end of August, Hamburg is a winner.

Steve Goldberg


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Steve Goldberg

Steve Goldberg

Eight years after first getting a glimpse of wheelchair basketball at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul when covering the Olympics for UPI, Steve Goldberg got the chance to really understand the game as Chief Press Officer for the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta. He's been a follower of the sport ever since. Over the years, the North Carolina-born and bred Tar Heel fan - but University of Georgia grad - has written on business, the economy, sports, and people for media including Time, USA Today, New York magazine, Reuters, Universal Sports, TNT, ESPN, New York Daily News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Olympian. Steve Goldberg's Wheel World will look at the past, present and future of wheelchair basketball.