Bronze at 2011 Boccia Blast After Controversial Call

photo courtesy of Don Lane

The 2011 Boccia Blast in London, Ontario came to a close on Sunday, as the best boccia players in Canada battled for the prestigious title.  I am currently ranked number 19 in the world, and this was an important tune up event before the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico next month.  Due to a disappointing loss to world number 31 Caroline Vietnicks, Saturday, 2 – 4, I needed to beat world number 8 and 2011 Boccia World Cup silver medalist, Marco Dispaltro, for a chance at Boccia Blast silver – gold was out of reach for me because of the round robin point spread.

Dispaltro played me at 8 metres, where we clashed, shot for shot until the final ball of the end.  I was able to land a solid ricochet that budged my blue ball millimetres closer than his red, to score the first point of the game.  In the second end, I played a solid short game at 3.5 metres, ending up with three more points, leading 4 – 0 going into the third of four ends.

With the jack (white target ball) back to Dispaltro, he played at 5 metres and landed a solid first ball.  Since I was leading, I decided to play defense, and set up an impressive wall of balls.  It was not impressive enough, as he was able to place three of his balls past my defense, bringing the score to 4 – 3 entering the fourth end.

I placed the jack at 3.5 metres again and had a well but not perfectly placed first ball.  Dispaltro played the millimetre game, placing balls and pushing and lobbing them up.  We went back and forth, with the jack almost out of the court.  If the jack is knocked out, it goes to the centre “X” and all the balls stay where they are placed.  With one red ball scoring for the tie, I had two blue balls left.  I placed one near the “X,” but at a disappointing distance.  With my final ball, I landed a perfect shot right on the jack – scoring.  Dispaltro had three balls remaining.  He tried a lob and missed.  He tried a second lob and got a piece of the ball cluster, but not enough – blue was still scoring.  With his final lob, he budged the group of balls enough for his red ball to score.

When we went up to see the field of play and settle the score with the referee, I saw that Dispaltro’s red ball appeared to be right on the line, meaning it was out of play, and I would win the match.  I called over Mike Clark, the head referee for an official measurement, and after around 10 minutes of gently poking and prodding the ball in the direction of the court with a piece of paper, to verify if the bottom part of it was touching the line, it was declared in.

This tied the score and brought us to an overtime end.  The jack is placed on the “X” at 5 metres, and after some back and forth, Dispaltro scored the tie-breaking point for the win – leaving me with bronze this time.  A close win for him, and solid performance from me bodes well for our chances in Guadalajara individual play, along with our teammate Vietnicks.

We leave in a few weeks, and are ready to challenge hard for those spots on the podium.

  • Katie

    Hi Josh,
    I just read your post here and your wording in the title and the article makes is sound as though you are implying that there was misconduct on behalf of the refs, particularily Mike. I watched what was going on as well as a bunch of others and I didn’t see anything that would imply that there was any misconduct or that the red ball was somehow pushed in by the refs as they tried to determine whether or not the red ball was in or out of play. You know as a seasoned athlete that if you don’t like a call that you don’t sign the game sheet. You did sign the sheet however and to me this seems like sour grapes. The refs have a very difficult job and I’ll bet this was probably the most difficult call that they had ever make as it was so close.  I don’t appreciate the comments and making others look like they can’t do their job and seem unprofessional. I assure you that professionalism is VERY high on Mike’s priorities and I think this article is extremely unfair towards him. As an athlete you have as much responsibility in the game and you even went down on the floor to look so it isn’t like you took his word for it. You saw it. If you didn’t agree you should have said something then and not in a article after the fact.
    I hope that you can defend the comments and I sincerely hope that they were not intended as they were read. If this is the case I hope that you make the corrections and clear the air.
    Assistant Coach Team Ontario

    • Josh Vander Vies

      Hi Katie,

      Let me start by saying that I think Mike Clark is one of the best referees in the world.  Out of all international, national and local referees who I have ever had referee my games, or watched referee other games, Mike’s professionalism, style, dedication and grasp of the rules is excellent.  This is why he is trusted by athletes and other referees with the important task of being head referee at many competitions.

      I often talk with him about this, and I hope he knows it is true.  Mike and I had a discussion last weekend, the day before the match about how I do not believe that using paper to determine the distance between balls is a fair method, because it cannot help but move the position of balls in a small way.  We both agreed that there is no better way to do it, and it is a necessary tool.

      I intentionally chose a provocative title for this blog post.  Referee calls are an exciting part of any sport, and fans like to talk about them.  One of the goals of my blog is to show off boccia as the dynamic and exciting sport it is – for players and spectators.  The position of the ball in my match against Dispaltro is about as exciting as a call gets in our sport, and I wanted to express that.

      I used the term “controversial” in the title, because the call was very close and could have gone either way – in, or out.  This word does not mean that it was a negative or positive call professionally by the referee.  It was negative for me and positive for my opponent, making the call itself controversial.  Also the ball appeared to be out at the beginning of the measurement process – three different papers were used to measure.  After the roughly ten minute process however, I got out of my wheelchair and saw that the final paper used indeed showed the ball was in.  To me, this is a controversial decision, and controversy is part of what makes sport exciting.

      Another point that I would like to add, which I did not include in the blog post, is that in a close call like this, a strategy an athlete can use is to ask for repeated measurements, in the hopes that the balls will move from the measuring equipment.  Something along the lines of this strategy is what I was implying with the sentence: “I called over Mike Clark, the head referee for an official measurement,
      and after around 10 minutes of gently poking and prodding the ball in
      the direction of the court with a piece of paper, to verify if the
      bottom part of it was touching the line, it was declared in.”  I was not implying that this was a professional failing of Mike.  I was trying to describe the measurement process in a vivid way.

      I can definitely see how this could be interpreted as attacking referees and Mike specifically; I am very glad you let me know that you interpreted it that way.  I hope these comments give more perspective to you and the fans of my blog.  I would love to hear your thoughts on my response.

      All the best.

  • Mike

    Josh, I needed some time to think about my response to your blog and the subsequent comments that have been posted.  My initial response would not have been as favourable.

    I truly appreciate your comments about me personally as a referee.  Boccia has become a passion of mine and I truly enjoy watching, participating and refereeing in all of the events I have had the pleasure to be invited to over the past few years.

    Having said that, I would like to clarify a few things from my point of view.  I do not in any way feel the need to justify myself, however, I do feel it is neccessary to have both sides of an issue.

    During the tournament we did have a conversation about the use of paper in determining wether balls are actually touching each other.  This was taking place while we watched a referee lower the paper between balls that were side by side to determine if there was a space between them or not.  We agreed that the paper may not be the best way to determine such a thing, however, we have no other way of determining those types of distance at this point.  We did not discuss using the paper to measure the distance a ball is from the line in regards to being in, or out.

    You made a comment: “after around 10 minutes of gently poking and prodding the ball in the direction of the court with a piece of paper, to verify if the bottom part of it was touching the line, it was declared in”.   Intentional or not, this comment absolutely implies that I pushed the ball making it “in”.  I take great offence to that.  At no time during that entire process did I actually touch that ball and if you actually felt I did, you should have said, “I think you touched or moved the ball”.  You did say that you didn’t agree with the call but you did not ever hear you say that I moved the ball.  If you felt the ball was actually moved, you should have said so.  You also had every right to not accept the call by submitting a protest.  Neither of these actions were taken.

    Thanks for letting me add my 2 cents,
    Mike Clark


    • Josh Vander Vies

      Mike, I appreciate you taking the time to respond.  I would like to make one final comment about this call, and want to hear your comments.  There is some good discussion going on here.

      No rules were broken during the game or the measuring, so there was nothing to protest.  It is the accepted way of measuring with paper in any situation that I feel is controversial, and accepted methods cannot be protested.  My experience at international tournaments is that even when a referee is caught on video, blatantly kicking a ball by accident during measurement, the protest fails because no rules are broken (and video evidence is not accepted).

      During the measuring I did say that I thought the ball had been pushed in.  I said something like: “well, it’s in now, that it has been pushed in.”  You said “I didn’t push it in.”  I agree totally that you did not push it in, because you are skilled.  Since the distance which the ball was declared in was probably 1mm or less, I still think that the method used had no chance of doing anything but moving it a little bit, or creating a small pocket under the ball for the paper to slide into – because of the only available direction for the paper to move during the measuring process was on to the court.  It certainly did not move it in the opposite direction.

      It looks like we either need to have high speed cameras around the court like in tennis and cricket to triangulate the statistical trajectory of balls:

      Or have a series of tiny pressure sensors installed in the tape: (they would need to be smaller than this one probably!)

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