Boccia, a history

Boccia (pronounced ‘botcha’) is derived from the ancient Italian game of bocce and similar to the French boules game, pétanque. It is thought to have developed from a game in Greece in which large stones were thrown at a target. Similar games were played in the Middle Ages and in Ancient Egypt. Sir Francis Drake and Lord Howard even played a game in Plymouth, England, whilst waiting for the arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588. It is believed that Sir Francis Drake insisted on finishing the game before leaving to defeat the enemy.

Since then, the game has been specifically developed for athletes with high levels of impairment. Initially it was designed for those living with cerebral palsy, however it is now played by athletes with any kind of neurological impairment that affects their motor function. Boccia was introduced into the UK in the early 1980s and is organised worldwide by the CP-ISRA (the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association). The organisation was founded in 1978 and is based in Nottingham, England. The game can be played from recreational to Paralympic level across the UK.

Boccia, a Paralympic event

Boccia made its debut at the New York Paralympics in 1984 and is now practiced in over 50 countries. It is one of only two sports that do not have an Olympic counterpart.

Boccia game at Beijing 2008 - featuring Norways John Nørsterud

Boccia at the Summer Paralympic Games

  • 1984 New York, USA – 5 events across men’s individual C1, women’s individual C1, men’s individual C2, women’s individual C2, mixed team C1-C2. 19 athletes (10 male and 9 female) took part in the first ever boccia Paralympic events. Represented by 5 different countries; Canada, Denmark, Great Britain, Portugal and the USA.
  • 1988 Seoul, Korea – 3 events in mixed individual C1, mixed individual C2 and mixed team C1-C2.
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain – 3 events events in mixed individual C1, mixed individual C2 and mixed team C1-C2 
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA – 5 events across mixed individual C1 wad, mixed individual C1, mixed individual C2, mixed pairs C1 wad and mixed team C1-C2.   
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia – 5 events across mixed individual BC1, mixed individual BC2, mixed individual BC3, mixed pairs BC3 and mixed team BC1-BC2 
  • 2004 Athens, Greece – 7 events across mixed individual BC1, mixed individual BC2, mixed individual BC3, mixed individual BC4, mixed team BC1-BC2, mixed pairs BC3, mixed pairs BC4. 
  • 2008 Beijing, China – 7 events across mixed individual BC1, mixed individual BC2, mixed individual BC3, mixed individual BC4, mixed team BC1-BC2, mixed pairs BC3 and mixed pairs BC4. 
  • 2012 London, Great Britain – 7 events across mixed individual BC1, mixed individual BC2, mixed individual BC3, mixed individual BC4, mixed team BC1-BC2, mixed pairs BC3 and mixed pairs BC4. 

British boccia medal winners

  • 1984 New York, USA 
    Mark Chard - bronze in men’s individual C2.
    Terry Hudson - bronze in men’s individual C1.
    Carol Johnson - gold in women’s Individual C1 and silver in mixed team.
    Alin Kerwin - silver in mixed team.
    Paula Monzani - silver in mixed team.
    Diane Wiscombe - silver in women’s Individual C2.
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA
    Joyce Carle - silver in pairs C1 wad.
    Zoe Edge - silver in pairs C1 wad.
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia
    Nigel Murray - gold in mixed individual BC2.
  • 2008 Beijing, China
    Dan Bentley - gold in team BC1-BC2.
    Nigel Murray - gold in team BC1-BC2 and silver in mixed individual BC2.
    Zoe Robinson - gold in team BC1-BC2.
    David Smith - gold in team BC1-BC2.
  • 2012 London, Great Britain
    Dan Bentley - bronze in mixed team BC1-BC2.
    Nigel Murray - bronze in mixed team BC1-BC2.
    Zoe Robinson - bronze in mixed team BC1-BC2.
    David Smith - silver in mixed Individual BC1 and bronze in mixed team BC1-BC2.

How boccia has evolved

As boccia has evolved to include a wide range of athletes, so has the technology that enables those with physical impairments to participate. Additionally, the balls have been developed and are of different weights and designs to be used tactically throughout the game.

Boccia is one of the fastest growing Paralympic sports, with increasing numbers of clubs and leagues around the world, ensuring more and more people are playing the sport than ever before.

Rules of boccia

Opponents (or opposing teams) each have six balls (either red or blue) which they throw at the jack, with the aim of getting the closest. The side whose ball is not closest to the jack throws until they get the closest, or until they run out of balls. Players score points if they are closest to the jack. The winning side scores a point for every ball they have closer to the jack than their opponent’s closest ball.

At the Paralympics all events are mixed, with men and women competing together across 7 events. These are:

  • Individual events (BC1, BC2, BC3, BC4) - where players compete against opponents of the same classification over six ends.
  • Team events (BC1 and BC2 combined) - played over six ends with each player playing two balls per end. Each team must have at least one athlete of BC1 classification.
  • Pair events (BC3, BC4) - played over 4 ends with two players playing 3 balls per end. 

Athletes are grouped in four classifications, which are outlined on the Boccia UK website as followed:

  • BC1 comprises athletes with cerebral palsy who are able to project the ball once it is placed in their hand by an aide.
  • BC2 includes athletes with cerebral palsy who have a lower level of impairment compared to BC1 athletes and who do not require an aide.
  • BC3 athletes have the highest level of impairment and cannot grasp or release the ball. They therefore play with an assistant and the use of a ramp to project the ball.
  • BC4 is for players who do not have cerebral palsy but have a similar functional ability to BC1 and BC2 athletes. These athletes do not compete with an aide.

Governing bodies

The United Kingdom Boccia Federation (known as Boccia UK since 2016) is the national governing body for boccia in the UK and was established in 2007. The body brings together the national agencies across the UK that are responsible for the delivery of boccia at elite level. These agencies are Boccia England, Scottish Disability Sport, Disability Sport Wales and Disability Sport Northern Ireland.

The Boccia International Sports Federation (BISFed) is the international governing body for the sport.

Regional clubs

England Visit bocciaengland.org.uk for the contact details for clubs.

Wales Visit disabilitysportwales.com for contact details for clubs.

Scotland Visit scottishdisabilitysport.com for contact details for clubs.

Northern Ireland Visit dsni.co.uk for contact details for clubs. 

For further information visit the Boccia UK website here 

References

  • www.paralympic.org/news/sport-week-history-boccia
  • parasport.org.uk/play-sport/sports-a-z/boccia
  • boccia.uk.com/
  • dsni.co.uk/performance-sport/boccia
  • www.scottishdisabilitysport.com/boccia-2/
  • bocciaengland.org.uk/
  • www.disabilitysportwales.com/what-sports-can-i-do/boccia/