At one end of the Paralympic spectrum you have sports like wheelchair rugby, rowing and wheelchair basketball where power and strength are key.

Then at the other end, you have sports like boccia.

Some people consider the sport unworthy of a place at the top table of Paralympic sport and dismiss it as just a friendly game played by people with cerebral palsy.

Yes, boccia may lack the physicality of some of the other 19 sports on offer in Beijing, but make no mistake, the skills and passion I saw on Friday as Britain won a glorious gold in the BC1/2 team play-off against Portugal assured me the sport fully deserves its place.

GB's boccia's team celebrate gold

So what are Boccia's rules?
It's played by wheelchair users with cerebral palsy or related neurological conditions and is based on the French game of boules or petanque with the aim of the game to throw leather balls (coloured red or blue) as close as they can to the white target ball.

The balls can be moved with hands, feet or if the competitor's disability is severe, with an assistive device.

A match has four ends for individual or pairs matches and six for teams and at the completion of each end, the referee measures the distance of the balls closest to the jack and dishes out the points accordingly.

The team with the highest number of points at the end of play is the winner.

So, it sounds simple. Take it from me, it's not. I had a try in the build-up to the Athens Paralympics four years ago and embarrassed myself so much I've since left it to the experts.

Among those experts are Britain's Nigel Murray, a silver medallist in the BC2 individual competition earlier this week and his team-mates David Smith (complete with red mohican) and Dan Bentley, as well as Zoe Robinson - the fourth member of the team.

The British trio of Murray, Smith and Bentley took on Portugal, one of the world's top boccia-playing nations who won six medals in Athens and had a gold, two silvers and a bronze to their credit before this match.

In front of a crowd at the National Fencing Hall, which included Lord Coe and the Duke of Wessex, the Patron of Paralympics GB, the Brits made a nervy start.

Murray is the seasoned campaigner on the team - a former individual medallist in Sydney - and the leader on the court. His experience was even more important here with Smith (19), Bentley (24) and Robinson (18) all making their Games debut.

The master tactician encouraged his younger team-mates and they responded by taking the second end 2-0 and then upped their game in the third taking it 4-0 to lead 6-1 with some superb precise play.

Accuracy in sport is paramount at the best of times but these are athletes who do not have full control over their limb movement and yet can still propel the ball to within a hair's breath of the target.

Amid all the tension, the players showed the typical passion of sport when they played a winning shot and the crowd were also full of enthusiasm and appreciatiion of the efforts on show.

Having earned their advantage, GB maintained their composure and although they lost the fourth end 1-0, they won the fifth end 2-0 to put them 8-2 ahead and close to victory.

Portugal needed a spectacular final end to force a play-off, but fell short and it was Murray and co who were left celebrating a sweet sweet victory.

Smith, who made his international debut aged 14, is now a Paralympic champion and told me afterwards that some of the wheelchair basketball team came to watch one of their matches and were surprised at how exciting it was.
GB's Nigel Murray in action

"It is a simple game but the skill and technical element and the tactics are extreme," he said.

Team manager and coach Jacqueline Lynn, wiping back the tears, said she hoped the win would help to increase the sport's profile towards London 2012.

"Boccia provides an outlet for very talented athletes with severe disabilities and it keeps them involved in sport," she said.

"Athletics and swimming have no longer a lot of classes for severe disabilities so I think boccia has a fantastic opportunity. It is a performance sport and attracts performance athletes.

"If it wasn't for boccia, very few of these athletes would have a chance to compete at a Paralympics."

But I think I will leave the final word to Nigel Murray, who goes home from Beijing with a gold and a silver and the sport in a healthy state.

"People with our disabilities are no different to any other indiviudal and we aspire to be the best in what we do," he said.

"There are other sports but we have found boccia the sport that suits us. We love playing it and being together and we are proud to be boccia players and are not ashamed to say it."

Elizabeth Hudson is a BBC Sport journalist focusing on Paralympic sport. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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  • 1. At 8:03pm on 12 Sep 2008, englandboccia wrote:

    I have to say that I am very disappointed by the coverage of Boccia. David Smith was the World Champion going into Beijing and ranked No 2 in the World. Nigel Murray finished in 3rd place at the last World Championships and ranked 3rd in the World and the Great Britain team won the World Championships and were ranked 1st in the World. Any other sport with those stats would have recieved hours of coverage, not minutes. Equally sports like Fencing and Table Tennis have been neglected in favour of sports made high profile in the able bodied world. (I am able bodied myself).
    The actual coverage of the Paralympics has not been good, with only minimal amount of air time.
    That said, well done GB Boccia, we are all proud of you!!

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  • 2. At 8:17pm on 12 Sep 2008, bocciagirl82 wrote:

    well done to my friends, i'm absolutely delighted for them. i know how much hard work it's been, being a former boccia player myself. would've been in beijing if i hadn't retired. i'm now considering a return to the sport which gave me so much.

    our sport deserves more respect, and hopefully on the back of this massive win, we'll see that so it can only be a good thing for boccia.

    hopefully we'll see big backing from uk sport because without their support, gb boccia wouldn't be in this position today!

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  • 3. At 9:01pm on 12 Sep 2008, Aaron wrote:

    Super stuff! having played boccia with my elderly grandad i know how hard the and skilful the sport is, sadly must add that in my opinion the coverage of the games has been poor, i think our athletes deserve more air time!

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  • 4. At 10:20pm on 12 Sep 2008, And wrote:

    I'm sure we'll see more coverage in 2012 - I was pleased to follow the Boccia via the red button. The Paralympic coverage has been great compared with what we used to get - I just wish the rest of the media would catch up.
    Anyway, well done GB Boccia - some of the shots we saw today were astounding. I honestly don't think I've seen the same level of accuracy in bowls at the Commonwealth Games, for example. Boccia should be placed at the forefront as an example of how athletes with severe disabilities can take a central place on the sporting stage.
    Don't see wheelchairs - don't see the disabilities - see a team who are world No 1s at their sport. WELL DONE GUYS AND GAL!

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  • 5. At 01:21am on 13 Sep 2008, charlieeade wrote:

    Before the tiny bit of coverage that has been on TV I had never heard of Boccia however I was fascinated by this sport and the Paraolympians that were playing it. I would just like to say that the Boccia team had me crying tears of happiness when they won their gold and individual silver and I would like to thank the team for making a rather ill person very happy. You are all an inspiration to everyone. Well done on such an amazing job and for making your Country proud.

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  • 6. At 09:50am on 13 Sep 2008, peterska2 wrote:

    I've been fascinated by the boccia and the amount of skill involved is amazing. I have no idea how some of the shots were made as there were some where I hadn't even noticed a gap and the competitor got the ball through it.

    I have to admit that boccia is probably my favorite event now. I hadn't heard of it before the games, but it right up there with the cycling at the top of my must watch events since it has grabbed my attention.

    Our team have really done us proud and I am thrilled to bits that they won the gold in the team event as well as the individual silver. Well done!

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  • 7. At 10:57am on 13 Sep 2008, singinghannahj wrote:

    I really don't see why there should be any question about including the game. If they have bowls at the Commonwealths and curling at the Winter Olympics, then why should boccia not be included in the Para's? Congrats to all of them.

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  • 8. At 1:05pm on 13 Sep 2008, Older than the Pyramids wrote:

    When I started to watch boccia (never having even heard of it before), I thought, "Oh, it's 'diddy-bowls'."

    I am now thoroughly ashamed of myself, and I acknowledge that the participants are true athletes. Like all sportsmen/women, they aspire to be the best they can, and I (as an able-bodied individual who has never achieved anything in sport) salute them.

    I hope that the politicians who clamoured to be associated with the Olympic competitiors upon their return from Beijing will accord a similar tribute to the Paralympians - and I hope that Nigel Murray et al will feature in the New Year's Honours List.

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  • 9. At 3:29pm on 13 Sep 2008, MartinDFerry wrote:

    I agree with the other posters here: Boccia makes great viewing and should get more attention. The enthusiasm and spirit of the competitors comes across really well. On a related note, may I suggest that, for parity, the Special Olympics also get TV coverage when they take place?

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  • 10. At 3:35pm on 13 Sep 2008, IfImay wrote:

    Name names, who are these people saying this sport is unworthy of inclusion?

    I'm able bodied and have to say I have firstly enjoyed watching this event and secondly I have no doubt that this event tests those who participate.

    Agree with The_Forfarians comments in regards the welcome due to them and the Honours.

    I'm also becoming an avid fan of the wheelchair rugby .

    All in all fantastic efforts all round. Shame the coverage has concentrated so much on just a few events, come on BBC open a couple more streams of minority sports and events.

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  • 11. At 5:42pm on 13 Sep 2008, DMBOSTON wrote:

    This is the Paralympics. Boccia represents everything that is good about the Paralympics. This event is outstanding. It is a sport in its own right rather than a derivation of something else due to a disability.

    It is unique, entertaining and draws you to watch it. Thats what sport should be.

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  • 12. At 6:31pm on 13 Sep 2008, Hypermobility wrote:

    As someone who has a spinal condition and a complex physical disability followed with a tremor in my hands, also a wheelchair user, i am very pleased indeed by the Boccia GB team and lets hope this gets more of a presence in 2012.

    I had a go at a recent Disability Sports Day at my local leisure centre and vey much enjoyed it, and it is surprising how fixed you become and competitive.

    I support Disabled sport and Paralympics

    Well done Team GB

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  • 13. At 6:34pm on 13 Sep 2008, Hypermobility wrote:

    I was very saddened and appalled at the IPC decision to uphold the decision today concerning the race which Dave Wier was in (stupid Aussie, he should have complained before the start of the race.

    Now Dave Wier will be really frustrated by missing out on his chance of a Gold Medal.

    David Wier needs the support of his team mates and not insults by people who have no idea.

    I hope he shows how he feels to the IPC.

    Keep proving them Wrong David Wier.

    Frinton on Sea

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  • 14. At 9:23pm on 13 Sep 2008, newckybird wrote:

    Like others I had never heard of boccia but found it a fascinating game of geunine patience and skill. Anyone critiscising it clearly has no understanding of how much effort and practice it must take by the competitors to play at the stabdard we saw. I would prefer much more coverage of the sport in future and also some much wider coverage of all the Paralympic events (althugh it has to be said it has been much better than usual). Saturday, for example, I was at work all day but there was no highlights coverage on.
    I had also never come across wheelchair rugby and wow! what a sport - I hate the usual rugby but this was great to watch.

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  • 15. At 9:25pm on 14 Sep 2008, wheelie wrote:

    Boccia is great, played a bit when I was at school, but as I don't have cerebral palsy can't play for GB.

    Wheelchair rugby is excellent, played a bit, but can't find a club to play for at the moment, great fun. Can't imagine why it was initially called murderball...... ;-)

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