Hopeful of being able to compete in London in 2012 after he narrowly missed out on a place at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, Boccia World Cup gold medallist Ali Lalani discussed his sport, his inspirations, and his future aspirations with Zahid Lalani.


Zahid Lalani: Many people may not have heard of boccia – what is it?

The referee measures the distance of the balls closest to the jack, and awards points accordingly: one point for each ball that is closer to the jack than the opponent's closest ball. The team or player with the highest number of points at the end of play is the winner.Ali Lalani: Boccia is a target sport played by individuals, pairs or teams. It requires a high degree of muscle control, accuracy, concentration and tactical awareness. It can be played by individuals, pairs, or in teams of three. The aim is to throw red or blue coloured leather balls as close as they can to a white target ball, or jack.

Boccia was originally designed for athletes with cerebral palsy and is one of the fastest growing international and Paralympic sports. Over 50 countries have local or national competitive programs.

ZL: How did you start playing boccia?

AL: After I finished high school I was thinking about the next path I wanted to take. My family and I decided on the option of a specialist college where I could fuel my passion for sport.

I remember when I was a child at school I could only watch as my peers took part in sports that I could only dream about. I recall the times when, as an athletics fan, I pretended that I was the one at the starting blocks, crossing the line first and standing on the podium receiving the gold medal. This desire to win gave me the passion and motivation to take advantage of every opportunity that presented itself, and this drive has pushed me to succeed in my sport.

Buoyed by encouragement from my peers and a physical education teacher – who later became my coach – I decided to attend an extracurricular sport afternoon. When I arrived I was amazed by the amount of sporting options available to me. I was asked to throw a boccia ball for the first time; this first throw was the starting point of realising my potential, as well as my desire to compete.

ZL: What motivates you?

AL: I truly believe that it is my faith that motivates me. My faith has given me the strength to keep going despite some incredible challenges along the way. I also love the opportunity to be able to highlight my ability rather than my disability against all the odds. Becoming the ultimate champion in my chosen sport continues to drive me to succeed.

ZL: Who are you inspired by in the sporting world, and why?

AL: I've always been inspired by Muhammad Ali and people like Roger Federer. Their dedication, commitment, will to win, and desire to be the ultimate champion in the sport they chose inspires me. Also, I am motivated by their sheer discipline to keep performing at their peak for many, many years and the way that they set about becoming the greatest champions in their sport.

ZL: What have been your major successes, and what does the future hold for you?

AL: I have been fortunate to have won three major championship medals: silver at the European Championships, bronze at the World Championships and gold at the World Cup. Naturally, for me, there is one big goal left, and this is to represent Great Britain at the Paralympics.

The 2008 Great Britain boccia team. Photo: Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for the UK The 2008 Great Britain boccia team. Courtesy of the Ismaili Council for the UK

Unfortunately, I was not selected for the Beijing Games, and at first, this was a huge disappointment. After seven years of complete dedication and hard work I have not been able to achieve my dream just yet. However, I hope to represent Great Britain in London 2012.

After my playing career I hope to assist in coaching the new generation of boccia players, and in doing so, to give them opportunities similar to those that I have been blessed with.

ZL: Recently, a footballer switched roles with a news reporter to ask the questions he wanted to ask – are there any questions you would like to be asked, or anything new you've wanted to say?

AL: That's a really good question! What I know is that I'm in a very privileged position. If I am asked to do an interview or an article, I'm not only representing myself, but as an Ismaili, I represent, at some level, the hopes and aspirations of my Jamat. A question I would like to be asked is: how would you like to be remembered?

I've always said to people that it's nice to be important but it's more important to be nice. People aren't going to remember how many championships I won or how many records I broke: they're going to remember – in 50 years time – what kind of person I was. You can't take the medals with you, you can't take anything with you, but you can be remembered, and I want to be remembered as somebody that made a difference.