Boccia was originally developed as an intervention therapy for athletes with cerebral palsy until it was recognised as an official sport in the 1984 New York Paralympic Games. Hence, it is one of the two Paralympic sports that do not have an Olympic counterpart (the other being goalball). Today, the sport has extended its invitation to athletes with related neurological conditions or impairments that impede motor skills. Furthermore, since the game must be played from a seated position, it is extremely accessible to wheelchair users.
Boccia is usually played on a smooth, hard court, measuring 12.5m by 6m. The goal of the sport is simple: precision is key. Players aim to roll their balls (or bowls) as close as possible to the target white ball, also known as the jack. Bowls are often made out of leather and are coloured either red or blue. Boccia balls can either be thrown, rolled, kicked or released down a ramp (chute). Athletes who are unable to release the ball independently are allowed the help of a sports assistant. However, the assistant is not allowed to face the court, or communicate with the athlete. Dependent athletes are then also equipped with a head pointer so that they are able to release the ball using the movement of their head.
The throwing area in Boccia is divided into 6 areas, in which players must remain in during play at all times. Individual and pair matches are held over 4 ends, while team games are held over 6. Each player, pair, or team is allowed 6 balls. Turns are taken in attempting to land the ball as close as possible to the jack, and the ball closest to it is awarded 1 point. or to knock the opponent’s balls out of the way. Players can also knock the opponent’s balls out of the way and out of the court. As a result, the score can change drastically after each turn. The total score is tallied after each player makes all 6 throws, and the individual/team with the highest score is crowned the winner. Interestingly, Boccia is also only one of the only sports where men and women compete against each other.
The governing body for Boccia is the International Boccia Commission, which is a part of the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreational Association (CP-ISRA).
There are 6 eligible impairment types for Boccia:
|Impaired Muscle Power||Muscles in the limbs or trunk are either partially or completely paralysed as a consequence of conditions such as spinal cord injury or spina bifida (i.e., following a nerve injury).|
|Impaired Passive Range of Movement||Range of movement in one or more joints is permanently reduced as a result of trauma, illness or congenital deficiency.|
|Limb Deficiency||A total or partial absence of bones or joints from birth, as a consequence of trauma or illness (i.e., amputation).|
|Ataxia||Lack of muscle co-ordination because of problems with the central nervous system that controls movement and balance.|
|Athetosis||Involuntary movements in limbs arising from problems in the central nervous system (i.e., consequence of cerebral palsy).|
|Hypertonia||Abnormal increase in muscle tension in tandem with the reduced flexibility in muscles, joint stiffness, and poor postural adaptation and balance, due to a compromised central nervous system|
There is also a classification system for Boccia, which ensures that players compete with others of the same level of ability. The classifications are as follows:
|BC1||Athletes have severe activity limitations affecting their limbs and trunk due to co-ordination impairments. They are able to grasp the ball and do not use assistive devices. Athletes with some leg control are allowed to deliver the ball with their foot.|
|BC2||Athletes in this category have better trunk and limb control than players in BC1. Their arms and hands often allow them to throw the ball overhand and underhand, using a variety of grasps.|
|BC3||Athletes have significantly limited functions in their limbs, and have poor to no trunk control due to cerebral or non-cerebral conditions. They use a ramp and/or other assistive devices to deliver the ball.|
|BC4||While classes BC1-3 include athletes with hypertonia, athetosis or ataxia, category BC4 athletes have impairments with no cerebral origin (i.e., muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries, amputations affecting all limbs). Players usually propel the ball with a pendulum swing, sometimes using both hands or arms. They may use a glove to sustain their grip on the ball.|