The first ever National Boccia Day will take place on Saturday 17th September in sports clubs up and down the country. Organisers say that the day is being held to coincide with the Paralympic Games in Rio where the sport is one of the flagship events for disabled athletes. But still not many people know what boccia is, so with the help of a UK boccia coach, here is a little explainer.
Boccia (pronounced bot-cha) is one of three sports that is only played at the Paralympics, but not at the Olympics. Some of the world's most severely disabled athletes participate, however, it is a sport so little understood.
Bob Lathbury is a boccia coach based in the East Midlands and has been teaching the sport to young people for over a decade. He explains that boccia is not too dissimilar to bowls. He says:
"When asked what Boccia is my standard answer is seated bowls for people with disabilities but it is much more than just that. It is a sport that involves accuracy, precision and strength to enable the player to propel the ball towards the Jack (white) ball. This can be achieved either by using the hands, feet or for the more severely disabled athlete a ramp and head or mouth held pointer."
Unlike bowls, the athletes remain seated when competing and can either compete 1 v 1, in pairs or in a team of three. One team plays using bright red balls, and the opposing team use blue balls. Players take it in turns to throw depending on what colour ball is closest to the Jack ball. At the end of a match, a team scores one point for every ball of the same colour closer to the jack than the nearest opposing ball from the other team.
Boccia was originally devised in Greece for people with Cerebral Palsy but anybody disabled or non-disabled can take part. In the Paralympics, athletes who compete are classified between BC1 - BC4. More recently this has been extended to include:
- BC5 Impairment of cerebral or non-cerebral origin
- BC6 - Any physical impairment
- BC7- Visual impairment - B1 - B3
- BC8 - Intellectual impairment.
Despite boccia being one of the Paralympics flagship sporting events, there has been hardly any television coverage of it. Being as boccia is the most inclusive sport, what message does it send out when broadcasters are not willing to give any airtime to the competition?
Bob says that the coverage in Rio has been 'disappointing'. He added:
"For me it is sad to think that as a sport specifically for people with disabilities the coverage of boccia from Rio has been poor in the extreme.
"If Team GB is to compete on a world stage it is vital that we have as much exposure to encourage athletes who might otherwise go to another sport. The players in the current Team GB squad feature highly in World ranking lists but the more people we can bring into the sport the more chances we will have for World Championships and Paralympic gold medals."
Despite the lack of coverage, awareness of the sport is growing in the England. There are now five boccia academies spread throughout the country as well as large annual tournaments.
If you would like to get involved with boccia, or simply want to find out more information, visit the Boccia England website https://bocciaengland.org.uk/