Boccia, a Paralympic sport of strategy and skill, slowly gains popularity in India

Sachin Chamaria (left) at the boccia national championship in Visakhapatnam in March  

The court is silent as Sachin Chamaria eyes a singular white ball — the jack — resting in front of him. The 30-year-old wheelchair-bound paraplegic athlete studies the distance from the ball and the angle it is at, before sliding his red ball on a ramp. It rolls over and stops right next to the jack.

This is the game of boccia (pronounced baw-cha), a paralympic sport slowly gaining popularity in India since 2017. Played specifically by wheelchair-bound athletes, the target of the sport is to get your balls as close as possible to the jack. Along with goalball, boccia is one of the only two sports to not have an equivalent in the Olympics.

None of this Sachin knew until March 2021, when his physical therapist introduced him to Jaspreet Singh Dhaliwal, founder of Para Boccia Sports Welfare Society, India’s governing body for boccia.

It was barely a week later that the Delhi-based athlete contested at the fifth boccia national championship in Visakhapatnam. And still, to his pleasant surprise, he ended up winning the gold medal in the BC3 category, defeating 15 other players, some of them seasoned. Seven months into the sport, he has taken to it and how — he will now be representing India at the Fazza Dubai 2021 World Boccia Asia-Oceania Regional Championships, in November.

Boccia, a Paralympic sport of strategy and skill, slowly gains popularity in India

“Boccia is a game of strategy as much as skill,” says Sachin, who also enjoys playing chess. “You have to choose a strategy for each shot. You have to choose what kind of ball to play, what height and angle to throw it from — there are hard balls and soft balls; and if you land a soft ball close to the jack, it won’t be displaced easily by another ball as it absorbs pressure and won’t roll down too far, for example. All this, you have to strategise and do within six minutes,” he says.

Before a road accident left Sachin a quadraplegic at the age of 17, he was a National-level taekwondo champion, representing India at international events. He now trades stocks under his company Growealth Capital, but his dream of being an international athlete is still alive.

Watch | Boccia slowly gains popularity in India

In 2015 and 2016, he played sports such as club throw and discus throw. “But after a year and a half of practice, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the Paralympics this way,” he admits.

Now with boccia, he stands a good chance; a win at the Dubai championship will open doors for the World Boccia Open Tournament in Brazil, which will lead the way to the Para Asian Games in China, which will help him qualify for Paralympics 2024.

Accompanying him in Dubai will be three other players, including athlete Ajeya Raj from Jharkhand for whom it will be familiar ground. The contingent was selected at a seven-day national camp in Solan, Himachal Pradesh ,where they practised at a special court made at the Indian Association of Muscular Dystrophy Centre.

Boccia, a Paralympic sport of strategy and skill, slowly gains popularity in India

There are currently about 60 to 70 boccia players, but Sachin reckons there could have been over a 100 if the pandemic hadn’t slowed things down. “Still,” he says, “in India there are hardly any dedicated boccia courts, there is one in Solan and the other in Bengaluru.”

A plea for support

To train for Dubai, Sachin had help from a Delhi school in Punjabi Bagh, which opened up its premises for the construction of a boccia court.

Equipment such as ramps, balls, hand pointers, head pointers (tools for holding the ball, needed by people with disabilities) are also quite expensive and not easily available, he says. The ramp alone costs up to three lakh rupees. “I am able to play the game because I was lucky enough to be born into a family that can afford the cost of the sport. What about people from lower income groups, will they pay for their medical bills or for buying equipment?” he asks, emphasising the need for Government infrastructure and support.

India currently takes part in nine of the 22 Paralympic sports, and yet it had a good run this year, earning 19 medals in total. “Given that boccia has four categories in individual or teams, training boccia players gives us the chance to bring 48 medals home,” he points out.

For now, Sachin’s dream is singular: to represent India at the Paralympics, and Dubai is his first step in that journey.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 9:45:54 PM |

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