Today Boccia is a played competitively at national and international level by athletes who require a wheelchair because of their disability. In its current form, Boccia was originally played by athletes with cerebral palsy, but now includes athletes with other disabilities which affect motor skills. Boccia is also widely played as an educational and recreational game, particularly in schools and old peoples’ homes. At Paralympic level, Boccia is one of only two sports which do not have an Olympic counterpart (Goal Ball being the other.)
For competition purposes, athletes are classified according to their disability into one of four classifications:
Players in this class throw the ball with the hand or foot. They may compete with an assistant who stays outside of the competitor’s playing box, to stabilize or adjust their playing chair and give the ball to the player when requested.
Players in this class throw the ball with the hand. They are not eligible for assistance.
Players in this class have very severe locomotor dysfunction in all four extremities. Players in this class have no sustained grasp or release action and although they may have arm movement, they have insufficient range of movement to propel a Boccia ball onto the court. They may use an assistive device such as a ramp to deliver the ball. They may compete with an assistant; assistants must keep their back to the court and their eyes averted from play
Players in this class have severe locomotor dysfunction of all four extremities as well as poor trunk control. They can demonstrate sufficient dexterity to throw the ball onto the court. Players are not eligible for assistance.
Boccia can be played by individuals, pairs, or teams of three. All events are mixed gender. The aim of the game is to throw leather balls – coloured red or blue (which side gets which is determined by a coin toss) – as close as they can to a white target ball, or jack. Each side has six balls per ‘end’, and each end is timed. The jack is thrown first, then the first two regular balls are played, (first, the player who threw the jack then the opposing side), after which, the side furthest away from the jack goes next in an attempt to either get closer to the jack or knock the opposition’s ball out of the way. In this fashion, each end will continue until one side has played all six balls, at which point, the opposing side will play their remaining balls. When each end is finished, the referee identifies ball (or balls) of the same colour closest to the jack, and awards points accordingly – one point for each ball that is closer to the jack than the opponent’s closest ball. The team/player with the highest number of points at the end of play is the winner. If both teams have the same amount of points after all ends have been played, one additional end is played to determine a winner.
Individual competition consists of four ends and six balls per player per end, whilst paired competition is four ends and six balls per pair per end (three per player). Team competition is six ends, and six balls per team per end (two per player). In pair and team events, a reserve player is allowed. Between ends a reserve can be substituted for a player during a game, but only one substitution per game is permitted.
Boccia is played on a court measuring 12.5 × 6 m with 2 m of empty space around it. The surface of the court is flat and smooth. The throwing area is divided into six rectangular throwing boxes in which the athletes must stay completely within during play. On the court is a V-shaped line over which the jack must cross for the throw to be valid. At the end of the court is the ‘dead ball container’ which balls are put in if they are thrown outside of the time limit, out of the area of play or the athlete violates a rule during his or her throw. A cross marks the position where the jack must be placed if it touches or crosses the boundary line or in the case of a tie break. The balls are made of leather and are slightly larger than a tennis ball, weighing approximately 275 grams and measuring 270mm in circumference. Boccia balls are available in different grades of softness and hardness.