Apart from new blood, Boccia athletes say there needs to be more places for them to practice if the sport is to continue to thrive. “This sport does not require a lot of equipment, but it needs quite a lot of space. I can say that the availability is definitely inadequate,” Wong says.
Leung Yuk-wing agrees. At present, Boccia players have to improvise on non-purpose-built courts. Leung says they need to make preparations before they practise. “In order to save time, we use some recyclable materials…like ribbons, to make a V shape and baselines then I and my teammates can use the baselines of the badminton courts,” he says.
Leung is glad there will be a new Boccia court at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, which will provide athletes with a regular place to practise in the future.
Apart from being a sport for the disabled Boccia is also a sport that can be played by mixed ability teams and by the elderly. Rosa Mah Yuk-han, a physiotherapist working for the Helping Hand group, which works with the elderly, has helped to organise Boccia activities for the elderly since 2004. Ten years ago, she was sponsored by the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Physically Disabled to take a referee training course in New Zealand.
Boccia as a recreational activity for the elderly began as a programme covering 12 elderly homes and care centres in Kwai Ching. Since then it has developed into a programme involving around 400 centres across the territory.
Mah says that, initially, in order to attract the attention of the elderly, they made the activities like carnivals with booth games, cheerleader teams, body checks and gifts. They even invited actor Alex Fong Lik-sun as a guest.
Nurses in the elderly centres teach the elderly how to play the game and they hold regular practices. Mah says playing Boccia helps elderly people to keep their minds sharp and develop strength in their hands and waists.
“It is quite interesting. I move more, move my hands and legs. At the time [of the competition] I played several times a week. I just play it when I am free,” says elderly participant Lin Heung.
Although Boccia has been going strong among the elderly for a decade now, Mah finds she is still holding training courses for nurses and social workers because there is such a high turnover of care staff. In addition to holding training sessions, Mah and her colleagues at Helping Hand have written a training handbook for newcomers. She hopes the programme can continue every year but says its scale depends on funding.
Many sports require a certain level of physical fitness which may not be possessed by everyone. Boccia, as both a competitive sport and a recreational activity has been a success in Hong Kong. And with the World Boccia Championships to be staged in Beijing later this year, followed by the Asian Para Games in Incheon, Korea, it is a good time for the general public to know more about the sport.
Edited by Joyce Cheng