Amid all the excitement and cheers of the crowd, one hall, in particular, shone during the first days of the European Para Championships. It is where boccia, a sport known for its precision and strategy, took center stage.
There is absolutely no doubt, the busiest and most lively hall in Ahoy was – until the wheelchair basketball started – reserved for the boccia tournament for the past few days. For the home country, five Dutchmen are shining at the European Para Championships (EPC2023): Daniel Perez, Chantal van Engelen, Marco Dekker, Thomas Mirck, Bernd Meints.
Daniel Perez (41) has been playing for years at the highest level, the BC1 class, and could previously be admired at the Paralympic Games. “It’s special to play in front of my own people”, Perez says slowly, but with a big smile. “My friends and family are here to cheer me on.”
From the first day, boccia was busy. As Friday progresses and evening approaches, the stands take on an increasingly intense Orange hue. There are also a remarkable number of fellow boccia players enjoying the games at the edge of each court. Here, homeland Netherlands represents its pride on the European stage. Perez in particular etalizes that he is operating at the highest level.
Throughout the day, it is not just Orange audiences, fans of Great Britain, France, Greece, Portugal, and Spain are also loudly present. Online, a particularly large number of fans are also watching, with more than 8,000 fans tuning in to the livestream on Tiktok in the afternoon.
In the buzzing ambiance, we watch Perez team up with Dekker and Van Engelen to beat one country team after another with extreme precision and strategic moves. Although speaking is difficult, it hardly seems to cause any problems when communicating with his teammates. “We actually combine all styles, but my preference is by feel and creative”, Perez says.
On Saturday, August 11th, the boccia finals will take place on Schouwburgplein, right in the center of Rotterdam. “That’s very interesting. Playing outside in such a crowd brings energy.” Perez also especially hopes it will make even more people curious about boccia. He will take on Briton David Smith in the final at 2 p.m. Chantal van Engelen will battle Ana Correia of Portugal at 4 p.m.