Boccia can be played indoors or outdoors on a hard, flat surface in either individual or team play, socially or competitively, up to the Paralympic level. With assistive devices, boccia can be played by anyone, no matter their ability.
Boccia was practiced for many years as a leisure activity until it was introduced at the New York 1984 Paralympic Games as a competitive sport.
In Paralympic competition, it was originally presented as a sport for athletes with cerebral palsy (CP) but is now open to male and female athletes with severe locomotor disabilities of a cerebral or non-cerebral origin, including individuals with CP, stroke, traumatic brain injury, high-level spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and arthrogryposis.
Opponents then take turns trying to throw or bowl their game balls (six for each player per round) as close as possible to the target ball. The basic principle is to score as many points as possible by getting more of your own boccia balls closer to the jack than your opponent. The athlete, pair, or team whose ball is closest to the jack scores one point, and receives an additional point for every ball that sits closer to the jack than the opposition’s closest ball.
In matches for individual and/or a pair, four rounds (or ends) are played. In a match for a team of three, six round are played. Whichever individual/team scores the most points, wins the match.
Boccia balls are made of many materials. Good quality boccia balls are soft enough to grasp, but hard enough to roll well on the court surface. Recreational boccia sets are readily available at sporting goods stores and large retail establishments.
- BC1 class athletes have cerebral palsy and may propel the ball with their hand or foot. They may have difficulty
gripping the ball so they are permitted an assistant to perform actions such as handing them the boccia balls.
- BC2 class athletes also have cerebral palsy, but have sufficient dexterity to manipulate and throw a ball and so are not eligible for assistance on the court.
- BC3 class athletes are athletes who have either cerebral palsy or other conditions. They have the highest level of impairment and are unable to throw or kick the ball consistently into play. They will use assistive devices (ramps, arm or mouth aids) to propel the ball. They may have a sports assistant who they instruct to position the ramp for each delivery. There are very specific rules when a sports assistant is used. The assistant is not allowed to view the playing court and must follow specific instructions from the player at all times.
- BC4 athletes are those who do not have cerebral palsy and were first included in the Games in 2004. They do not have spasticity, ataxia, or athetosis, but must have severely limited function, strength, and coordination in all extremities. Disabilities in this category include muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis or motor neuron diseases.