The Real Rule Changes International Boccia Needs

I submitted my feedback to the proposed BISFED draft rules earlier this month.  In respecting the process that they laid out, I only commented on rule changes that the BISFED Rule Committee had approved and were seeking input on.

I understand that BISFED is a new organisation and is just getting started as an international federation.  The amount of work for the volunteer board and committee members must be overwhelming.  However, I believe that the international boccia rules require a major revision.  I have set out below the changes that I believe should be made.  The response of the community will likely be, “radical changes like these must happen gradually.”  This is an understandable position, but I believe that the suggested changes below should be made immediately to drastically change our sport for the better.

First, the rules are drafted in many different languages and then translated to English, which is the official language of the sport.  The entire rulebook needs to be rewritten by an English-speaking expert in writing, to capture the actual intent of the rules.  The current rules are a nightmare of incorrect grammar, syntax and meaning.

Second, there is now a large push in the international boccia community to speed up the game while not losing the high level of play.  I submit to the community the following suggestions to address this goal, under two headings: Format of Tournaments and Match Rules.

Format of Tournaments

Pool matches should be 2 ends, and direct elimination matches should be 4 ends.

This is a format that I am basing off of international fencing.  In fencing, pool bouts are fenced to 5 points.  After pool play, athletes are ranked, a certain small percentage is eliminated, and the rest move on to direct elimination bouts up to 15 points.

In boccia, we could adopt a similar model.  Pool play could continue as it is implemented now, only 2 ends would be played in pool play, instead of 4.

Abolish the call room.

This format would mean that a call room is no longer necessary.  Now, athletes and teams must report to a call room 30 minutes before a match, or else they are disqualified.  This adds needless complexity to the organisation of a tournament and wastes time.

In the 2 end / 4 end proposal, all athletes in a pool would report to a single court.  As one match finishes, the next would begin seamlessly.  The players would know the order of their match, and if they were not present (in the washroom, warming up etc.) they would forfeit the match.

In the direct elimination round, athletes would report to their designated courts.  If they are not there at the posted start time, they forfeit.

Match Rules

Two-way communication between BC3 athletes and sport assistants should be allowed.

Two-way communication between athletes and sport assistants is now completely forbidden – only athletes can communicate to sport assistants, and sport assistants may not respond in any way, including vocally or with body language.

This rule is far too draconian, and it slows down the game.  This rule also gives an enormous advantage to BC3 athletes who are more verbal.  Two-way communication should simply be allowed.  Sport assistants should continue to not be allowed to look at the court.

Sport assistants now receive Paralympic and World Championship medals.  They are integral to the performance team.  The BC3 / Sport Assistant duo should be treated as a team.  It is not realistic to treat a sport assistant as a piece of equipment.  The result will be a faster and higher level of play.

BC3 sport assistants should be allowed to be the last to touch the ball on release.

The rule that a BC3 athlete must be the last to touch the ball, gives an unfair advantage to BC3 players who are less disabled – the game is now too focused on range of physical motion rather than aim and accuracy.  The length of the ramp should continue to be regulated by the size of the throwing box.

I know that some members of the boccia community think that ramps should be less technical and more standardised.  I have to disagree with this notion.  Figuring out the design of a BC3 athlete’s ramp is a major part of the thrill of the sport.  I think that in general we should allow ramps to be more complex rather than less, with restrictions like lasers, mechanical speed-ups and perhaps levels remaining.

Currently, some athletes are not eligible to play, because they are not able to release the ball with their body or a head pointer.  They are however able to direct a sport assistant to move the ramp, and they have designed a release mechanism that they can release, operated by pulley.  They are ineligible.  The solution should be to allow sport assistants to release the ball.  This would level the playing field, and be fairer for more severely disabled BC3s, especially those with CP.

Individual division time needs to be drastically reduced.  The entire time for a match should be allocated per match, rather than per end.

Most boccia enthusiasts that I know agree that boccia matches are too long, and too much time is spent between throws.  Time should be reduced, and time for the entire match should be allotted at once, to remedy this:

BC3 individual: 20 minutes per side/athlete/team (5 minutes each per end) 4 ends
BC1, BC2 and BC4 individuals: 16 minutes per side/athlete/team (4 minutes each per end) 4 ends

BC1/2 Team: 36 minutes per side/athlete/team (6 minutes each per end) 6 ends
BC3 Pairs: 32 minutes per side/athlete/team (8 minutes each per end) 4 ends
BC4 Pairs: 24 minutes per side/athlete/team (6 minutes each per end) 4 ends

Throws should alternate, rather than be determined by who is furthest from the jack.

Although pétanque and bocce seem to use the same rule for throw order as boccia – the side furthest away throws until it is closer to the target or runs out of balls – lawn bowling, bowls and curling use an alternating system.

I believe that we should adopt an alternating system.  This would drastically speed up a boccia tournament by reducing time spent measuring between shots.  This would also allow for much more creative strategies, and potentially make it much harder to score large amounts of points in a single end.