Paralympic stars take centre stage as Dubai 2021 World Boccia Asia – Oceania C’ships kicks off 

The 7th Fazza Dubai 2021 World Boccia Asia-Oceania Regional Championships kicked off with the individual pool matches on Sunday as Tokyo 2020 Paralympic stars from the region took the centre stage at the Shabab Al Ahli Club here.

This event holds significance in several ways – the medalists get direct qualification berths for the World Boccia Championships scheduled for August 2022 in Rio de Janeiro and this is the first international competition where separate events for men and women are being played.

Altogether 11 gold medals will be contested at the Championships, with 70 players from nine countries vying for glory this week.

The hosts, United Arab Emirates, are fielding nine players including two women at the championships.

The men’s BC2 pool matches saw Paralympic stars including Thailand’s four-time Paralympic champion Watcharaphon Vongsa (Pool A) and compatriot Worawut Saengampa (Pool B) registering comfortable wins in their opening games so did Japanese star Hidetaka Sugimura, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic gold medallist (Pool C).

Sugimura was happy to be in Dubai and wanted to continue his winning run. “I wanted to keep winning and keep challenging myself,” Sugimura said, looking ahead to a fruitful week.

“Of course, I am aiming for the gold here,” added the 39-year-old.

Tokyo 2020 medallist Jeong Ho Won led a 10-member South Korea team in the Dubai 2021 event with 19-0 win in his opening men’s BC3 Pool game.

Among other top names, Yuk Wing Leung of Hong Kong, Thailand’s Pornchok Larpyen and Kazuki Takahashi from Japan also had wins in men’s BC4 and BC3 Pool games.

Team Korea head coach Gwang-Teak Im highlighted the importance of the Championships in terms of World Boccia trying the new rule of separate events for male and female adding that there was mixed reaction among his players. “It’s a big change and we are looking to get more female players until Paris 2024.

“The team enjoys coming to Dubai due to its warm weather as it gives a chance for muscle relaxation and warm up for the coming year.”

Among women, Japan’s Rio 2016 Paralympic silver medallist Yuriko Fujii led the field winning her BC1 Pool game.

The Round 2 and 3 Pool games in all the categories will be played on Monday, with the knockouts to begin on Tuesday.

The finals will be played on Friday.

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