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The Traditional Game of Boċċi in Malta

The Traditional Game of Boċċi in Malta

Photo by Gregory Iron

Malta has a copious history of traditional sports that are still practised till this day. Undeniabily, one of the most sought-after sports among locals is ‘boċċi’. The sport of boċċi, sometimes known as ‘bocce’, is a variation of the metal-ball game known as boules. Boċċi originated in the early Roman Empire and has now evolved into a more standardised sport with an array of rules that are followed by countries around the globe such as France, Italy, Australia, and Malta. The earliest maltese boċċi were introduced during the rule of Knights of St. John. The modern game of bocci has more in common with boules (bowls) and petanque than it did with older versions of marble-only games. Floriana was the first documented location of an early boules-like game, which was followed by the modern game of bocci.

While the game of boċċi was often played with glass marbles, they were not always available. When kids couldn’t get to the glass marbles, they resorted to use other alternatives such as ginger ale bottle stoppers, hazelnuts and spherical pebbles.

Similar to football, Boċċi is played on a pitch. However, the playing area is considerably smaller than a football field, only approximately 2.5–4 metres wide by 20–27 metres long. It is played using coarse-grained sand on a sturdy, cloth-covered surface. This adds an additional element of surprise to the ball’s motion on the unpredictable terrain. Presently, metal Boċċi balls are used, and each team has a unique colour or design assigned to them to set them apart from one another. Boċċi balls are spherical and can fit in the palm of a hand like a smooth, hefty lawn ball.

The jack, a much smaller ball that resembles a dark marble, is carefully rolled to a position about 2 metres from the end of the pitch. Interestingly, the metal balls and jacks are mostly imported from France.

The two teams will then have the opportunity to bowl or throw their bocci balls close to the jack. In any round of the game, only the team that is closest to the jack is allowed to score. A match consists of multiple rounds, with each round awarding teams one to many points. The first team to 21 points wins. There are typically designated setters and knockers for each team. Just like any other sport, the allocated role brings about the use of different techniques, strategies, and goals. The players striving to get their boċċi balls closest to the jack are the setters. The players that throw the balls underarm to move the jack or to knock their opponent’s balls out of the way are known as knockers. One cannot undermine the social importance of boċċi, particularly in the 19th and 20th century.

Boċċi is played out socially in clubs among the locals and in front of curious tourists who are intrigued by the traditional sport.In Malta, there are more than thirty bocci clubs, and numerous federations host competitions. The local government owns a substantial amount of the boċċi clubs, albeit the boċċi federation members upkeep it and host events. Boċċi clubs are often accompoanied by coffee and tea shops or a hospitable little bar where you can buy a ftira with chips or a pastizz or two.

Nowadays, the local is still practiced nationwide, especially during the months from March to October. The sport is heavily dominated by men, with the women providing a chill beer or drinks to the competitors and a handkerchief to absorb their husband’s sweat. Men in the 20th century were opposed to women participating in this sport, labelling it as a ‘sport for strong individuals’ who have to hold a metal ball and swing it across the pitch. Although this mindset is shifting among the locals, the sport is still widely practiced by men

If you’re out and about and catch the sight of the sport of boċċi being played, take a seat, order a beer and ftira, and enjoy!

If you would like to share the glory with the team, feel free to take a picture and send it our way. We’d love to see it!