The History of Bocce. Arguably one of the most played sports in the world, bocce shares its origins with the game of bowls, and can be traced back to 5000 BC in Egypt. At first glance, the game of bocce is similar to the English game of bowls in that the object is to bowl larger balls towards a smaller ball (the jack) and the team or player that get the balls the nearest wins. However, there are differences. Unlike bowls, the balls in bocce are not biased and the players have the option of throwing the balls underarm as well as rolling them.
Both games though probably have the same origin, which can be traced back to ball games played in the Roman Empire. Bocce grew in popularity in Italy and around Europe and was exported to other continents by Italian migrants, notably to Australia and North and South America. This has led to some name changes. English speaking countries sometimes refer to it as bocci or boccie and in South America it is also known as bochas, bolas criollas and bocha.
Other European countries refer to it as balinanje (Slovenia), bocanje or boce (Croatia) and boule Lyonnaise (France).
The Early History of Bocce
According to the United States Bocce Federation, a version of bocce was played by the Egyptians in 5000 BC using polished rocks. This game moved to Greece around 800 BC and from there to Rome.
The game played in Rome was closer to the modern game and coconuts were often used as balls, though later special balls were carved out of wood.
Its spread across Europe was not universally popular, especially in war time when it was seen a distraction from archery practice and other military duties. This led to it being banned in Spain by both King Carlos IV and King Carlos V. And in 1576, playing bocce was criminalised by the Republic of Venice. Even the Catholic Church got in on the act of condemning the sport.
In contrast, the English version grew in popularity, especially among the upper classes, even royalty with Queen Elizabeth I being a regular player. In Italy, the game regained popularity in the nineteenth century and in 1876 the first Bocce Olympiad was held in Greece. An Italian league was formed in 1947 based in and around the town of Rivoli and the same year the first Bocce World Championships were played.
Proponents of bocce claim that it is the world’s third most participated sport behind football and golf. The world’s governing body is the Fédération Internationale de Boules. There are country federations around the world. For example, in Africa there are federations in Algeria, Burkina, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia and others.
The game is widespread in South America with federations in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, among others. The game has also spread into Asia with organisation in China, Taiwan, India, Japan, Pakistan and Singapore, for example. There is even an association in Iran.