Time indeed flies when you're busy! I find it hard to believe that it was a little more than a year ago that I had the privilege of meeting Salman and Nader (of then Premier Farnell) for the first time to explore how I could be supported in my dreams of representing Singapore in boccia at the London 2012 games.
Just two days ago, I was invited to a get-together among element14 colleagues in Singapore. I felt very welcomed despite meeting most of the attendees for the first time. Even had the chance to give 'live' demonstration of boccia and element14 staffs gamely tried their hand at the sport. I must say, there're some potential boccia players amongst you! How about setting up a recreational element14 boccia team?
I also heard that element14 is expanding its headcount in the Asia-Pacific region so probably there's going to be quite a number who may not be familiar with boccia and how it is played. How about a crash course?
Boccia is a traditional recreational sport, similar to bocce, lawn bowls or petanque. It is played by athletes who require a wheelchair because of severe physical disability. It was originally designed to be played by people with cerebral palsy but now includes athletes with other severe disabilities affecting motor skills, e.g. muscular dystrophy. Boccia originated in Greece, refined in Italy and then sanctions as a Paralympic sport in 1984. Boccia has no counterpart in the Olympic Games.
Boccia can be played by individuals, pairs, or teams of three and all events are mixed gender. The aim of the game is to throw leather balls - coloured red or blue - as close as possible to a white target ball, i.e. jack ball. Each individual or pairs match comprises four ends and each team match comprises 6 ends (i.e. rounds).
The jack ball is thrown first by the red player, followed by the red ball by the same player and blue ball by the opposing player. The balls can be moved with hands, feet, or, if the player's disability is severe, with an assistive device such as a ramp.Thereafter, the player whose coloured ball is further away from the jack ball goes next in an attempt to either get closer to the jack ball or knock the opposition's ball out of the way. After each colored ball is thrown, the referee will check which coloured ball is further away from the jack ball to determine which player's turn is next. This will continue until one player has finished all their balls (each individual player has 6 balls to complete within a specific time limit), at which point, the opposing player will play their remaining balls.
At the end of each end, the referee measures the distance of the balls closest to the jack ball, and awards points accordingly - one point for each ball that is closer to the jack ball than the opponent's closest ball to the jack ball. The player with the highest number of points at the end of a match is the winner. If both players have the same number of points after all ends have been played, one additional end (i.e. tie breaker) is played to determine a winner. If both players still have the same number of points, another tie breaker is played to determine a winner.
Equipment and court
Boccia is played on a court measuring 12.5m × 6m with 2m of empty space around it. The surface of the court is flat and smooth, usually on rubber mat or parqued floor. Each player must remain within the throwing area of the court that measures 2.5. x 1m.
The balls are made of leather and are slightly larger than a tennis ball - weighing approximately 275g and measuring 270mm in circumference. They are available in different levels of softness and hardness. There are also certain requirements of the wheelchair and assistive devices used.
Categories of players
Players need to be classified according to suitable categories to level the playing field:
- BC1 category: Players have cerebral palsy, throw the ball with their hand or foot and may compete with a sports assistant who will stabilise/adjust their wheelchairs or pass the balls to them upon request.
- BC2 category: Players have cerebral palsy, throw the ball with their hand and are not eligible for a sports assistant.
- BC3 category: Players have severe locomotor skills and cannot grasp or release the ball or have insufficient range of movement to propel a ball onto the court. They may use an assistive device to propel the ball with the help of a sports assistant who must never look at the on-going match.
- BC4 category: Players do not have cerebral palsy, have severe locomotor skills but have sufficient dexterity to throw the ball onto the court. Players are not eligible for a sports assistant.
Spirit of the game
The ethics and spirit of the game are similar to that of tennis. Crowd participation is welcomed and encouraged, however spectators, including team members not in competition, are encouraged to remain quiet during the action of a player throwing the ball.