Making its Paralympic debut way back in 1984, Boccia is renowned for its accessibility and is fast becoming one of the most popular Paralympic sports. Unique in that it is one of just two Paralympic sports without an Olympic counterpart, Boccia is precise, competitive and wonderfully inclusive
What Is Boccia?
Once a popular game among school children and seniors, Boccia initially moved into the world of competitive athleticism as a sport only for competitors with cerebral palsy involving a wheelchair. Now, it has broadened its scope and is played competitively at a national and international level, including athletes with a wide range of disabilities affecting motor skills. Boccia players, who compete in wheelchairs, are required to throw the game balls so that they land as close as possible to the target ball, the jack.
Boccia is one of the oldest modern day sports, with roots in Ancient Greece, where players through stones at targets, and Ancient Egypt, with carvings discovered in Egyptian tombs dating it back as far as 5200 BC. Later played in the streets and market places of the Middle Ages, Boccia derives its name from the Italian “boccia”, meaning “to bowl”.
Before it achieved widespread popularity and Paralympic status, Boccia was famously played by Sir Francis Drake and Lord Howard in Plymouth, England, in 1588. Playing while waiting on the arrival of the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drake insisted on completing the game before setting sail to defeat the enemy.
Governed by the Boccia International Sports Federation (BISFed), Boccia is now played in over fifty countries. It is a Paralympic favourite and is still popular in local communities.
How To Play
Boccia is a mixed gender sport and is played on a hard surface with 12.5-metre by 6-metre court dimensions. Boccia players compete in wheelchairs, throwing, kicking, or using ramp devices to propel leather balls, attempting to land them as close as possible to the white jack, which has been thrown by the starting team. Balls can be used to stop near the jack or to knock other balls into better positions. Each athlete, pair or team throws six balls per end (the number of which depends on team composition), or round. After each end, the referee measures the distance of the closest balls to the jack and grants one point for each ball that is closer than that of the opposing team. The team with the highest number of points by the end of play is the winner.
Because of its focus on adaptability and accessibility, Boccia is a flexible sport with rules that can be adjusted to suit the physical needs and abilities of players. Boccia balls (red or blue, distinguishing between teams) are easy to grip and may be moved or propelled with the hands, feet, head, or an assistive ramp, depending on the player’s level of mobility. It is that makes it such a fantastic Paralympic fit.
Who Is Eligible?
To be eligible to play Boccia competitively, athletes are classified based on measures of spasticity and muscle strength. They are then categorised into one of the following classifications:
BC1: Players with cerebral palsy, brain injury, or similar who have some difficulty with trunk and hand control. These players can compete with the help of an assistant who remains outside of their playing box and assists only at the player’s request. Players may use their hands or feet to propel the ball.
BC2: Players with cerebral palsy, brain injury, or similar who are able to pick up and throw the ball, and maneuver their chairs independently. These players are not eligible for in-game assistance.
BC3: Players who are unable to kick or throw the ball and are thus permitted to use a ramp or other assistive device to help them play. These players use a ramp assistant, who sits in front of them with their back to the game and positions the ramp and ball according to the player’s instructions.
BC4: Players with weakness in their arms or legs, for reasons other than cerebral palsy or brain injury, who are able to pick up and throw the ball, and maneuver their chairs independently during the game. These players are not eligible for in-game assistance.
High-Level Player Daniel Michel
From Heathcote, New South Wales, Daniel Michel was born in 1995 and began competing as a Boccia player in 2011, representing Australia at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Daniel was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type II, a condition characterised primarily by muscle weakness. At a Muscular Dystrophy NSW camp, then fifteen-year-old Daniel discovered his talent for Boccia. Just two years later, Daniel competed at his first international competition, the 2013 BISFed Asia Oceania Championships, where he progressed to the quarter-finals. In 2016, he and his ramp assistant, Ashlee McClure, competed in the Paralympic games.
Daniel was the first Australian to compete in Boccia since the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney and performed fantastically, placing second in his pool. Now, Daniel’s sights are set on gold, with the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games drawing ever closer. He is currently raising money through the Australian Sports Foundation to fund his trip.
Budding Boccia players can sign up to become members of Boccia Australia. Here, aspiring athletes can register as athlete-competitive players and compete in registered events. Boccia Australia members are eligible to compete in a wide range of local, state and national competitions, and there are programs available for players of all ages and levels. Members are also granted access to training material, newsletters, and coaching and referee accreditation opportunities.
Looking for a wheelchair that suits your lifestyle, check out our wide range of wheelchairs for your daily or sporting needs at www.sunrisemedical.com.au