Leung won a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Paralympics and also took part in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. However, the latter experience was not a happy one. Leung and his teammate lost in the semi-final due to a disputed judgement by the referee. Although they appealed to the organising committee, the result stood.
“After that, I am much more cautious about the score calculation,” Leung says. The incident made him consider giving up Boccia but he eventually decided to carry on because of a goal. “I and my teammate want to win a medal in Paralympics’ pair matches and we have not achieved it yet.”
Despite Hong Kong’s strong standing in Boccia, Leung thinks the territory needs to attract and nurture more young Boccia athletes if it is to remain competitive. He says many parents want their children to study rather than participate in sports, because of the lack of promising career prospects. Balancing studies and sport is a dilemma faced by two younger Boccia athletes who spoke to Varsity and they made different choices.
Yeung Hiu-lam, a 20-year-old paraplegic secondary student, has been a member of the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (HKSAP) Boccia team since junior form. In 2009, she entered a Boccia juniors’ competition in Tokyo and performed well. However, she put Boccia practice on hold to deal with the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE).
Yeung says she would not consider a career as a Boccia athlete because of the low pay and the short competitive life of an athlete. She will, however, take up playing the game again after she completes her public examinations because practising Boccia makes her healthier.
“I have wanted to be a social worker since I was a child. If I get good results in HKDSE then I can enter university. If not, I will go to Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE) then follow that path,” she says.
Another athlete, Wong Kam-lung, made a different decision. Wong has muscular dystrophy and plays Boccia using his legs. In 2012, he decided to postpone taking his HKDSE and repeat his studies for a year so he could compete in the London Paralympics.
Wong says Boccia is the best sport for him considering his physical condition. He says it is simple to learn but difficult to master. “I can teach you how to play Boccia in 15 minutes but it is difficult for you to learn how to control the force and direction [of the ball],” he says.
Wong is not just skilled at playing the game, he is also resourceful. Most of the leather ball sets are imported and can be quite expensive. Therefore, he came up with an idea to produce handmade Boccia leather balls using leather cut up from old sofas. Wong’s younger brother helped him to cut up and sew the balls and when they became more skilled, they bought pieces of leather to make more balls. These homemade balls look very similar to the imported ones. “It is still in a research and development stage,” Wong says proudly of his masterpiece.