The first big challenge for Brazilian wheelchair basketball towards the Paralympic Games in Paris (France) in 2024, after being absent from the Games in Tokyo (Japan), last year, begins this Wednesday (13). Starting at 3:00 p.m. (Brasília time), the women’s team debuts in the modality’s Copa America, against Canada. Later, at 7:00 p.m., it will be the turn of the men’s team to make their debut, also against the Canadians.
The event will take place at the São Paulo Paralympic Training Center. Admission is free and can be purchased upon registration. The equipment is located at kilometer 11.5 of Rodovia dos Imigrantes, south of São Paulo. Another option is to follow on line, on the Brazilian Wheelchair Basketball Confederation (CBBC) YouTube channel. The opening ceremony will take place at 5 p.m., but the ball is already up in the morning, with Venezuela and Puerto Rico opening the men’s tournament.
The Copa América brings together seven teams for men and eight for women. The four best-placed men and three women guarantee their place at the World Championships in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) in November.
In the first phase of the Copa América, the teams are divided into two groups, where they compete against each other. All go to the next stage in the men, the duels being used to define the eliminatory clashes. The leader of group A (the only one with four teams) goes directly to the semi-finals. For women, only the first two of each group qualify for the semi-finals.
On the men’s side, Brazil is in group B. In addition to Canada, three-time Paralympic champion, Argentina (current South American champion) is part of the group. Mexico would be the fourth member, but withdrew from the tournament. In Group A are the United States (nine gold medals at the Paralympic Games, including in Tokyo), Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Colombia. The latter beat the Brazilians in the quarterfinals of the Parapan American Games in Lima (Peru), in 2019, which served as a qualifier for the mega event in Japan. The Colombians were led by Ana Cardoso from São Paulo, who took over the green and yellow men’s team after the competition on Japanese soil.
“Brazil, today, is still not in the scenario that they should be in wheelchair basketball. Other American teams are passing through. So, we have to go back to that scenario, have representation and climb our space. We have to be mindful of our key, first, then think about crossovers. It’s a top league and Brazil is growing,” said Ana, who has also worked in wheelchair basketball in Italy and Spain. Latvia, for Brazil Agency.
On the women’s side, the hosts will have Bolivia, Guatemala and Canada as opponents, also for Group B. The Canadians, early rivals, are the current Parapan American champions, responsible for leaving Brazil outside of Tokyo and emerging as main competitors in the first . In Group A, the United States (four-time Paralympic champions), Argentina, Chile and Mexico are included. Brazilian women, as well as men, have changed direction since the second half of last year. The current coach is Rogério Pinheiro, who made his debut with the South American title, secured in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, against the hosts.
“We tested with almost 30 different athletes to reach the group that is today. In addition to the vacancy for the Worlds, there is the situation of the girls who want to go up a notch more. They always arrive in second or third [na Copa América]. Maybe it’s time to take advantage of the fact that we will be inside, to have the strength of the public which pushes the team to, who knows, climb this step”, commented Rogério.
Ana and Rogério had the mission to renew their respective teams during the trip to Paris. The men, according to the coach, have half of the cast formed by new faces. Some were even part of the qualified group for the U-23 World Championship (in Thailand, later this year, no fixed date), like Sérgio Júnior (18) and Cristiano Clemente (23). The other half are veterans, like Anderson Ferreira, 43, who after 16 years defending Brazil dreams of reaching the first Paralympics of his career.
“Although some of us already have experience, after the blow we took [por ficar fora de Tóquio], we started from scratch. The process we’re going through here is to get into Worlds and look for a place in the top four. As long as I train at high performance, I will chase this dream [de ir a uma Paralimpíada]. And I dream big, I want to come back with a medal,” Anderson said.
In the women’s team, according to Rogério, six of the 12 called up have already represented the country in the Copa Americas and six others will participate in the tournament for the first time. The last edition of the tournament took place five years ago, in Cali (Colombia). On this occasion, the women won the bronze medal and the men’s team finished fourth. Both qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Hamburg (Germany).
“We grow. Each competition is an experience, a learning process, so as not to make the same mistakes again. We have a lot of hope, we work a lot physically and tactically, where we sometimes leave something to be desired, I think because of nervousness. We let’s work there to be more focused and develop a great job”, concluded Perla Assunção, ten years in the national team and voted best player in the country last year, at the Paralympics Awards.
“Pop culture fan. Coffee expert. Bacon nerd. Infuriatingly humble communicator. Friendly gamer.”