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 is unique to the Paralympic Games, though it has marked similarities to bowls, boules and petanque, and will be on view again at Tokyo 2020.
KUDOS: Boccia has been around for quite a while, and has been a Paralympic sport since 1984 – but for those who may not know much about it, can you explain what it’s all about?
Billie-Jo: Boccia is a Paralympic sport with no Olympic equivalent. It is played in a seated position. The game comprises a white jack ball, 6 red coloured balls and 6 blue coloured balls, and can be played as singles, pairs and teams. These requires different amount of balls. A singles competition requires all 6 coloured balls with red or blue, a pairs competition requires 3 coloured balls and a team games requires 2 coloured balls. Boccia tests both muscle control and accuracy. The aim of the game is to get the coloured ball to land as close as possible to the white jack ball, similar to bowls. Players are classified into different Boccia England classifications which are from BC1-BC8.
The game was originally designed to be played by people with cerebral palsy, but it’s been opened up a little now – is that right?
Yes it was originally just for those players with Cerebral Palsy. Today, boccia is played on a national and international level with players with different disabilities, which affect motor skills or visually. The game is inclusive as some of the officials require a wheelchair. It means no one feels left out.
Can you tell us a bit about how long your club has been in existence, how it got off the ground etc?
Boccia has been at Prince Arthur Road Indoor Bowling Club, in Gillingham, for eight years now. The competition team, Prince Arthur Boccia Knights, has been running for 3-4 years. The club was originally founded by 6 people – Malcolm and Lesley Clark, Deidre and Mike Williams, Lynette Stock and Carole Coulthard – who are all still involved and invested in the club. Our team has players from the ages of 18-58 (Owen Porter being the youngest).
The club was funded by Medway Council and Sport England. Once the funding stopped, the club managed to keep running. Our club has 4 officials -Carole Coulthard, Roy Porter, Gerry Knight and Nick Keith. It was the members who wanted to form a competition team and compete against other teams and we’ve managed to do this quite successfully. The team has been recently been funded by Gillingham Lions Club to allow us to have a uniform.
Does the club have a particular ethos, and how do you go about attracting members?
Although boccia is a Paralympic sport, our club welcomes anyone who aged between 7-80, whether they are able bodied or disabled. Word of mouth works best for us, although leaflets will be handed out at the Medway youth games and disability sport games. Our club currently has social media – Boccia at Prince Arthur on Facebook and @PARIBCBoccia on Twitter. We also go out to schools and promote what boccia is all about, and allow them to have a go. In previous years, we have had people undertaking the Duke of Edinburgh award – for part of this award they have to help people with disabilities and it stands them in good stead.
We’re pretty passionate about disability sport, and that sport in general should be as inclusive as possible. Lots of grassroots sports clubs are looking for more members, and so any club that isn’t inclusive to people with disabilities or long-term health conditions – around a fifth of the population? – is ruling out a pretty large chunk of the population. What do you think clubs can do to make themselves more inclusive?
It is unfortunate that in today’s society many of the facilities still do not have adaptations for those in wheelchairs, even though it is law to do so. Clubs should promote themselves with leaflets, social media and have open days. The most important thing to enable clubs to be inclusive is to have level access for people with limited mobility or use a wheelchair. The club should not judge people on their background and have a zero tolerance on bullying as it can knock peoples self confidence.
How would you sell the prospect of joining your boccia club to someone who might be thinking about joining?
As a club we would allow them to come into Prince Arthur and have a tour, have a go, show them a video about the club and talk to the team and founder members. This will allow them to familiarise themselves with the club, we would also talk to them to make them feel that they are not alone and we are a friendly and welcoming club.
Thanks to Billie-Jo for taking the time to talk to us. It’s great to see such a welcoming and inclusive club.
They meet for boccia-based fun most Saturday mornings. If you would like to go along and try out the sport, feel free to turn up for a 10.30am start. If you would like more information, please contact them via email on firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck to everyone at the club for the future!
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