No African boccia competitor has qualified for the Paralympic Games, but Johannesburg’s Liakath Aziz hopes to change that – with the help of his mother and fellow ‘Boccia Bandits’.
“I would say the reason why Africa hasn’t qualified yet is due to lack of resources and exposure,” said Aziz, 29, who has cerebral palsy. “A lot of people in Africa don’t know what boccia is, and a lot of people who could play it don’t have access to it.
“We need to get more visibility for the sport. I hope this championship will help us, and we can develop clubs in different cities and places, so that we can organize good matches and increase participation.
Aziz, who works full-time for an insurance company, is certainly playing his part. He played a fundamental role in the creation of the Boccia Bandits, a local club which now has 12 players, alongside his mother Fatima, who coaches the team and is a qualified tournament referee.
“We love sports,” Aziz said. “I’ve been addicted since I started playing. I like competitiveness, socializing, meeting new people. It’s very motivating. I’ve traveled to the UK and the US to perform and learned a lot. I became captain of the province and the sport taught me leadership and independence.
Four members of his home team will join South Africa’s 10-man squad at the competition, which will also include competitors from Zambia, Egypt and Morocco.
“It’s the first competition like this we’ve organized in Africa, so I don’t know the other players,” Aziz said. “I look forward to meeting them and welcoming them to Johannesburg.
“I don’t know how strong their teams are. I’ve tried looking for them online and can’t find anything. But I hope there will be good matches. Our team has been training intensely, so hopefully we can implement our game plan.
Africa on the rise
Whatever happens, the broader goal of greater action across Africa should be the bottom line. Aziz hopes this can finally propel him – or one of his fellow Continentals – onto the biggest stage of them all.
“I would love to go to the Paralympic Games, it’s my dream, and I train whenever I can,” he said. “I hope one day I can do it. To do that I have to stay on top of my game, train hard, focus and have a positive mindset. I am very positive and believe that you can achieve what you want in life.
“But if it’s not me or someone from my club, I would love to see someone else from Africa represent us. It can definitely happen. This tournament is the first big one for a lot of our team, and everyone is so motivated.
“I hope someone from Africa can make it to Paris 2024. It would give the sport a lot of visibility in Africa.”
In the meantime, it’s going to be a lot of fun. “We are all delighted to have the competition here,” Aziz said. “It will be great to show people our city and tell them about South African culture. I think this tournament can help launch boccia in Africa.
“Our club let a lot of other people play. Hopefully that can happen elsewhere too.