Boccia is one of only two Paralympic sports to not have a counterpart in the Olympics. A sport related to bowls, boccia sees athletes with severe physical disabilities taking part. In 1984 it was introduced to the Olympic Games and although it was originally designed for athletes with cerebral palsy, it is now played by athletes with many other disabilities affecting motor skills.
The game can be played as an individual or team sport (teams of two or three), and all events are mixed gender. Competitors aim to throw leather balls as close as they can to a target ball, otherwise known as the ‘jack’. After both teams have thrown their first ball, the team furthest away takes the next turn, aiming to get closer or to hit the opponents’ ball out of the way. This continues until all the balls have been played.
To win the game, teams need to obtain the most points. After each round the balls closest to the jack are measured in distance, and points are awarded for each ball that is closer that is closer than the opposition’s closest ball.
As each disability is differs in severity, the sport allows for athletes to use their hands, feet or an assistive device.
Boccia is designed specifically as a disability sport, and so to be eligible to compete in the game at national or international level, an individual has to qualify and be assigned to a sport class. To be in one of the four categories, competitors must have a disability and be in a wheelchair, as a result of cerebral palsy or another neurological condition that has similar effects such as muscular dystrophy or traumatic brain injury.
Jamie and Scott McCowan are brothers from Scotland, who both have Duchenne muscular dystrophy and represent Great Britain in the ‘BC3’ category. This means that they have to use a ramp to control the ball.
When describing the change boccia has had on his life earlier this year, Jamie said: “Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a deteriorating condition so it’s great to travel round the world and play sport at such a high level. Sport has changed my life for the better.”
Did you know…
- There are around 350 internationally ranked boccia players.
- Red and blue balls are used in boccia to distinguish between the teams. There is a coin toss at the beginning of every game to decide team colours. The jack is always white.
- Boccia is played on a court that is similar in size to a badminton court.
- Although similar to the game of bowls, boccia shows many differences. The boccia balls are softer, making them harder to knock out of the way during the game. They can also be thrown, bounced or rolled in any way. Additionally, there are different tactics involved; due to the range of abilities, sometimes athletes roll the jack to areas they think their opponents won’t be able to reach if they think they have an advantage!
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