Boccia and Goalball: The distinctive flavour of Paralympics 2021
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Boccia will be one of the uncommon sports which will be held at the Tokyo Paralympics Games. A mind game of strategic throws and tactics, boccia, can trace its roots all the way back to Ancient Greece and Egypt and is thought to be one of the oldest ever played by human beings. The word ‘boccia’ is derived from the Italian meaning to bowl and was introduced for the first time in the quadrennial competition in 1984.
Today it refers to a specific type of sport that involves a wheelchair, with participants throwing or kicking (depending on the person’s disability) a white ball called the jack. The objective is to get your own balls (in red or blue) as close as possible to the jack. Points are handed by determining by the number of balls of one colour that is closest to the jack than the first ball of the other colour. This game can be played in singles but generally, two teams are involved and each side gets six coloured balls either red or blue in colour.
In the 1 v 1 individual matches, each end comprises players throwing six balls each with the winner being decided on the basis of whoever is closest to the jack. At the Tokyo Paralympic games, seven gold medals will be up for grabs.The game is played inside a rectangular court, 6m in breadth and 12.5m in length.
Athletes are also divided in four groups – BC 1 to BC 4 – depending on their disability.
BC 1 players throw with their hand or foot and can also compete with an assistant.
BC 2 players throw with their hand but are not allowed to have an assistant.
BC 3 players are the ones with the most severe impairments because they are unable to use their hands or feet to throw the ball. Therefore they use a pointer.
BC 4 athletes are those with impairments of non-cerebral origin.
In India at large, this game has not exactly garnered the popularity it deserves. For such a game like Boccia, proper coaches and equipment are needed, which do turn out to be expensive in India. The price of wheelchairs used in Boccia tends to be on the higher side because of the material used and the fact that they have to be imported. This results in the cost of the wheelchairs shooting up to between $1,500 and $2,600. Another important factor is sponsorships which are currently lacking. Added to it is the need of bringing foreign coaches which again involves a lot of money. However, among the few national-level Boccia players is Ajeya Raj who has represented India on an international platform at the BISFED 2019 Dubai Boccia Regional Open.
Goalball at Tokyo Paralympics
Goalball is another unique sport featuring in this year’s Paralympic games. Invented, in 1946 to help rehabilitate veterans who had lost their sight during the Second World War, this game is a three-a-side team sport for blind and partially-sighted athletes. It was played for the first time in the 1976 Paralympic games in Toronto.
Those who are eligible for this game, have less than 10 percent vision remaining or a visual field limited to 20 degrees. A goalball court is quite similar to a volleyball court and measures 18m in length and 9m in breadth. It has goals at each end covering the entire 9m back-line. A string is taped to the markings on the court to allow players to feel the lines and orientate themselves.
The hard rubber ball, which is used for playing, has a diameter of 25 cms. But what is most interesting are the two bells placed inside the ball which help players judge the direction of the on-coming ball. This game is played under strict silence so that the athletes can react to the ball. Each match is 24 mins with two halves and each team can have a maximum of three players on court at a time. A maximum of three substitutes are allowed. Whoever scores the most goals, wins the match.
Along with boccia, goalball is one of the two Paralympic sports without an Olympic equivalent and thereby add a distinctive flavour of their own.One of the sports to be played at this summer’s Tokyo Paralympics will be goalball, which may be unfamiliar to many viewers.
Goalball is a three-a-side team sport for blind and partially-sighted athletes. It is typically played on an indoor court with a netted goal at either end – similar to a football goal, but smaller.
Teams score by bowling a ball into the opposition goal. Each goal scored by a team is worth one point.
All competitors must wear eye shades in order to ensure they are experiencing the same playing conditions, while the ball contains internal bells so it can be tracked through sound, and the court’s lines are tactile so they can be felt by players.
The court is divided into six even sections, with a ‘team area’ just in front of the goal at either end, a ‘landing zone’ ahead of that and two middle sections collectively referred to as the ‘neutral zone’.The typical positions for players are centre, right wing and left wing. The centre stays in the team area and assumes defensive responsibilities. They may use any part of their body to prevent the ball going in their goal. Most stay on their hands and knees.
While players can bounce a ball, many aim to avoid such tactics in order to reduce sound that their opponents might use to intercept the ball. Only players and referees may talk and make noise during play; coaches, teammates and spectators have to remain silent.
A goalball match consists of two 12-minute halves, and each team’s squad contains six players. Two referees are required, as well as four goal judges in the corners of the court.Penalty throws can be awarded in the following cases: if a team takes more than 10 seconds to throw the ball over the centre line; if a centre makes contact with the ball while outside of the team area; if a thrown ball fails to reach the opponents’ team area or does not touch the thrower’s landing zone or the neutral zone; if a player touches their eyeshades without permission; unsportsmanlike conduct; excessive noise; illegal coaching.