Boccia has origins in ancient Greece, where players threw large stones at a small target. Now this sport is one of two that does not have an Olympic counterpart.
Boccia, which means ‘ball’ in Italian, was initially designed for people with cerebral palsy. It is now played by athletes who have any kind of neurological impairment that affects their motor function.
The sport made its Paralympic debut at New York 1984, when 19 athletes represented five different countries. Now, Boccia is practised in more than 50 countries worldwide with 108 athletes competing at the Rio 2016 Games. The sport has similarities to bowls, boules and petanque and, like Goalball, is unique to the Paralympic Games.
Boccia is a game of high strategy, where a single shot can reverse fortunes. The Boccia field of play is the same size as a badminton court (12.5 metres x 6m). First, a white target ball called the jack is thrown, followed by the throwing or rolling of six red and six blue balls by each player, pair or team, called an ‘end’. At the close of each end, the player, pair or team whose ball is closest to the jack scores one point, and receives an additional point for every ball that sits closer to the jack than the opposition's closest ball. Individual and pairs matches consist of four ends, while team events are held over six ends. The athlete, pair or team gaining the most points is the winner.
Men and women compete together and there are four classes (BC1-4) based on the type or degree of impairment. There are currently seven medal events: four individual, two pair and one team. The rules are adjusted depending on the class, such as allowing the ball to be kicked by athletes who are unable to throw it with their hands, providing support from an event assistant, or using an inclined ramp to roll the ball.
Balls are owned by the individual athletes and must be within a range of weight, size and hardness. They must also pass a roll test prior to play starting.
International Federation: Boccia International Sports Federation
- Individual BC1 (Mixed)
- Individual BC2 (Mixed)
- Individual BC3 (Mixed)
- Individual BC4 (Mixed)
- Team BC1/BC2 (Mixed)
- Pairs BC3 (Mixed)
- Pairs BC4 (Mixed)
A test of nerve and skill
The BC3 class is for athletes with impairments to all four limbs and who use an inclined ramp to roll the ball. Ramps do not have a prescribed shape, accessories can be added and the height and length can be adjusted within a specified range. Athletes who are unable to push the ball with their hands may play using a head or mouth assistive tool (known as a ‘releaser’).
Athletes in classes BC1, BC3 and BC4 (some BC4 competitors play by kicking the ball) can be supported by one assistant, whose role is defined. For example, in the BC3 class the assistant can take instructions from the athlete, adjust the height and position of the ramp and place the ball in position for the athlete to push, but not view the court during play.
The power of a throw is important, as are the sport's many strategies. These include the ‘approach’ which gets a ball close to the target; the ‘hit’ which knocks another ball out; and the ‘push’ which knocks another ball closer. An approach may earn one point, a hit can turn a game by knocking out an opponent's ball, and a push can bring two points by hitting your own ball but keeping it in play.
Depending on the impairment, some athletes may not be able to use all three types of throw. However, each will capitalise on their strengths and strategic approach in search of victory.
Medals decided by the smallest of margins
Athletes qualify by building up ranking points at open events held across the world and by winning regional championships in the year preceding the Paralympic Games.
The balance of power in Boccia has changed from Europe to Asia, with Thailand currently a force. Thai players won five medals, including two golds, at Rio 2016, while athletes from Hong Kong and the Republic of Korea also reached the top of the podium.
One notable athlete is Thailand's Watcharaphon Vongsa. Born with cerebral palsy, he began playing Boccia aged 13 and took home his first gold medal as a member of Thailand's BC1/2 team at London 2012. He then dominated the BC2 class at Rio 2016, sweeping gold medals in both individual and team events. The Thais may indeed be a team to look out for at Tokyo 2020.
In a Boccia match a particular tool is used to measure which ball is the closest to the jack. What is this tool?Answer
A：A pair of callipers is set to the distance between one ball and the jack, then that distance is compared to the distance of another ball from the jack, to determine which of the two is closer. Referees may also use other measuring devices to ensure the correct outcome.
- Olympic Gymnastic Centre