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Paralympics referee rolls out his Boccia story

Some of the audience during the hybrid meeting addressed by Dan Headley, top left

International Boccia referee Dan Headley, newly-returned from the Tokyo games, visited Leicester Novus Rotary to talk about the sport and how he fell in love with it.

He started his PowerPoint presentation to the club’s second hybrid (available face to face and on Zoom) by explaining that Boccia (it rhymes with Wotcha!) is one of only two Paralympic sports which are not part of the Olympic Games. Don’t look now, but the other will be named near the bottom of this page!

In short, Boccia is similar to bowls, but it is played with leather-bound balls which competitors in wheelchairs aim to throw or roll as close to the white jack as possible. The competitors bring their own balls, which can range from very soft (like a bean bag) to very hard (like a cricket ball). Dan recalled that one athlete brought 40 balls to one competition. Athletes are allowed to bring into the court room only six red balls, six blue balls and one white jack.

Some international competitions last for seven days, but Dan explained that the first three days involves the officials checking that the courts are marked out correctly, and that the balls brought by the competitors are the right size and weight and that they roll down a test chute properly.

Some competitors in some of the Paralympics classifications have such restricted mobility problems that they have to propel the balls down a chute, possibly using a lever attached to an arm or to their head.

Dan started volunteering with people with disabilities before he was a teenager. His mother was a classroom assistant assigned to look after an autistic girl at primary school. Dan got involved and “fell in love” with Boccia. He spent countless hours during the week and at weekends volunteering and learning about the sport. Eventually he went on an intensive week-long course in Poland and qualified as an international referee in 2015.

But by then, he had already officiated at the 2012 London Olympics . “Fortunately,” quipped Dan, “the official language of Boccia is English.” The UK has eight internationally-qualified Boccia referees — many of whom had many years experience —but it was Dan, still only 28 years old, who got the nod to be the UK’s single referee to go to Tokyo.

“Tokyo was much more difficult, because of Covid,” said Dan, “than any of the other international events I’ve officiated at.” In other competitions, the officials had formed a family relationship and were keen to meet and catch up on family news and refereeing matters.

Banned from meeting over evening meals, the officials could have a take-away from the hotel restaurant to eat in their room. But Dan said that he was lucky to have great help from some Japanese volunteers who who show him meals available from Uber-eats on his cellphone and order them for him.

He said that the officials were in a bubble and were effectively confined to their hotel room from 5pm to breakfast-time. Then, officials and competitors would be ‘locked in’ inside the sports centre until they were escorted — escorted everywhere — back to their hotel.

Asked about his toughest decisions, Dan explained that some years ago he had to tell a competitor who had arrived five seconds late for a match that he could not take place. “That competitor took part in a national competition some time later and reached the semi-final stage. But never again did they arrive late,” he said.

He also referred to a challenge in Tokyo from one athlete who said that, when lifting one ball off a pile of others, Dan had caused the balls to move. Dan said he was very pleased when he called over the head refereed over who demonstrated that lifting the top ball could not have moved other balls and consequently judged in his favour.

Honour is a word that Dan uses often when talking about how he feels to be asked to take charge of top international matches in the game which he still loves. And, speaking about love, his partner, Kate, could not accompany him to the meeting because she was coaching at her Boccia club in Mansfield.

To learn more about Boccia UK, Dan’s employers, please click on this link Boccia England and to see a brief explanation of the rules , please click here (20) Boccia England: Playing boccia – changing lives – YouTube.

Oh yes, the only other Paralympic game that is not played in the Olympics? It’s goalball. Blind and blindfolded players try to throw or roll a ball containing a bell into a net at the far end of a pitch.

President Kartar Singh Bring presents to Immediate Past President Sarita Shah the presidential citation

After thanking Dan for his talk, President Kartar Singh Bring presented to Immediate Past President Sarita Shah a Presidential Citation. The document recognises that Novus achieved a number of targets set by Rotary International. It was, Kartar and Sarita agreed, an achievement made even more significant coming in a year so greatly disrupted by Covid.

Members were reminded that, in keeping with Novus’s aim to keep Rotary membership engaged and interesting, the meeting on 21/10/2021 will be a guided tour of the synagogue in Highfields Street, Leicester, and the following week will be a meal at the Glen Parva Manor Inn.

If you would like to know more about Leicester Novus and its programme of self-development and service to others, please e-mail us by hitting the Contact Us tab at the top of this page.

Last edited: 02:00 on Friday, October 15, 2021