Getting the ball rolling.

The BMW Group is not just committed to promoting mobility on the road. In Italy, it has even succeeded in establishing a new sports discipline: boccia for people with physical disabilities.

When Carlotta Visconti plays boccia, the leather ball filled with plastic granulate is just one of three essential ingredients for success. The second is an assistant – in this case, her father. The third is a one-and-a-half-metre ramp that, from a distance, looks like the centre section of a very large marble run. Both – the assistant and the ramp – help people like Visconti position the boccia ball as precisely as possible. Because boccia, the Italian variant of the French game “boules”, is more than just a pastime for the 21-year-old Italian. She is training with the Italian team “BocciAbili” and has her sights set on the biggest goal there is for athletes with disabilities: the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Boccia has been a Paralympic sport for 25 years – ever since experts discovered that its inclusive nature allows sportsmen and women of different ages, with different disabilities, to compete against one another. Boccia requires concentration, precision and excellent eye-hand coordination, as well as tactical thinking. With the help of her assistant and the ramp, Visconti aims to get her own ball closer to the “pallino”, the small ball that serves as a target, than her opponents. In the BC3 sports class, the ramp helps people like Visconti, whose disability prevents them from throwing the ball, to roll the ball onto the ground. Seated in her wheelchair, Visconti needs to find the right momentum and spin. All of this requires maximum coordination and concentration.

The Italian Paralympic team Carlotta Visconti belongs to was only formed about two years ago. Boccia was virtually unknown as a sport for people with disabilities in Italy, until the BMW Group launched an initiative that literally got the ball rolling: As part of its “SpecialMente” programme, the BMW Group funded equipment, facilities, coaches and participation in international competitions for boccia players with physical and mental disabilities. The Italian Federation of Paralympic and Experimental Sports (FISPES) also hosted Italy’s first boccia championchips for people with disabilities in conjunction with the BMW Group. “So far, we have had more than 120 sportsmen and women participate,” pointed out Sergio Solero, President and CEO of BMW Group Italy.

“This form of support is very important to the BMW Group,” Solero adds. “In this way, we are able to show that different people can enjoy being active and competing together – regardless of their outlook, religion, skill level or disability.” For this reason, the BMW Group’s commitment extends beyond its efforts to promote boccia: The SpecialMente programme also supports projects dedicated to inclusion, intercultural dialogue and road safety – for instance, by providing driver training and special motorcycle classes for people with disabilities. Another example is “SkiAble”, a professional ski course that Visconti attended for several years – until she switched to boccia.

These days, it is hard for Carlotta Visconti to imagine not playing boccia. She trains with her team for three hours at least once a week. But the athletes get together outside of training, too – for example, to organise talks or recruit new team members. “My team has become my second family,” explains Visconti. Thanks to the FISPES and BMW Group initiative, as well as the sport’s growing popularity, excitement is building ahead of Tokyo 2020. “We have big goals for the Paralympics,” she says. But the biggest goal of all is one shared by athletes everywhere: just to participate and have fun.

Stephan Augustin