Several years ago at school, I was approached by a student organization aiming to promote a six-person sport that had been played for over 70 years. Interested to hear more, I engaged and found a group of several other curious students. The student organization was composed of two visually impaired men, and the sport was called Goalball.
Following World War II, a group in Austria had a need for new methods of rehabilitation for war veterans who had become visually impaired. This sport, although technically anyone can play, centered around the visually impaired because participants are temporarily blinded with a mask while playing. The game was setup as a 3-on-3 game with a goal on each end spanning almost 26 feet. Within the field of play there is one rubber ball, similar to size of a basketball, although it weighs about 3 pounds, with 8 small holes and bells inside. Teams have the opportunity to bounce and roll the ball from their area down to the opponent’s goal around 50 feet away to win the game.
Because players during the duration of play are blinded, they must rely on their hearing and feeling to orientate themselves for both offense and defense. The absence of sound is vital to the players to play the game effectively, which makes the sport perfect for COVID crowds. When the ball is released, the stadium must be silent to hear the ball coming towards the defense. This allows the defense to audibly sense the ball and which direction they must extend to block the ball. Feeling is necessary as teams reside in front of their net inside a 10-by-26-foot perimeter outlined with tape. The tape covers a wire, which helps players orient themselves to face their opponents or know if they are too close to their teammates. Between these two senses and in the absence of predominant communication through language, the game creates suspense much differently than most popular sports.
Competitive play, except the Paralympics, is open to people of all sightedness, although the sport is more geared towards the visually impaired. Following sport’s rise in rehabilitation facilities, the sport grew in popularity between Germany and Austria, and later was submitted to the Paralympics in 1976. In recent years the men of Denmark and Finland and women of Canada have performed well, winning the gold twice each since 1996. This year, the USA men’s team is looking to up their performance since placing silver and the women’s team from bronze in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. Goalball at the Toyko Paralympic Games is scheduled to play from August 24th to the 30th in group play, and the tournament play will follow until the medal games on Friday, September 3rd.
When the student organization I had met with described, taught and played goalball with me and the other group I was with, I was excited. I had never played a sport removing the sense of sight, which most of us tend to take for granted in sports. Not only was that interesting, but it was also intriguing scoring a goal and never knowing exactly how it went it. Placement, speed and spin were all very key to throwing a good shot, but not knowing how your opponents reacted made that a little more difficult. In order to win, your team truly had to perform together almost like a chess match.
Goalball provides an outlet for the visually impaired to perform at a high level. This game creates an environment for the fans silent on the edge of their seats waiting to burst for a score. I’d highly encourage you as these summer games in Toyko come to a close, to tune into the Paralympics, watch Goalball and support our teams representing the USA. Lastly, if you end up finding as much enjoyment as I did with Goalball just by watching it, consider spreading the word about it in your local communities. Spreading the sport around our communities will help to create more support for the sport and the Paralympics, empower those who are visually impaired or know of others and give others an opportunity of excitement in watching or playing this sport.
Vince Coiro is a husband and father of two sons residing in Missouri. He is an active member of the American Solidarity Party.