Many people may not be familiar with the Paralympic sport of Goalball, one of the only sports that was created specifically for the blind and partially sighted. In a way, it is an unsung sport that truly does not get enough exposure and, to many players and fans around the world, feels like it’s a forgotten sport.
Goalball was invented in 1946 by the Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and the German Sepp Reindle as a rehabilitation activity for blinded World War Two veterans. It would slowly start to develop into the competitive sport that we know today during the 1950s and 60s. Goalball eventually gained the status of a Paralympic sport and, after being demonstrated during the 1972 Summer Games, it would officially debut at the 1976 Summer Paralympics in Toronto.
After that Goalball would see many changes in the way that it was played, from being played on a softer, rug type floor to a hardwood gym floor. The size and weight of the ball would also go through a few changes: it went from being two separate balls for Men’s and Women’s competitions to having one generic ball used for both. Over the years, it developed into the high speed and action-packed sport people enjoy today.
Now while reading this you may ask, “how is it played?” Well, Goalball is played in a gymnasium, generally on hardwood floors. The court is 9 meters wide and 18 meters long, the size of a standard volleyball court. The court is marked with tape and string, so the players can feel where they are. The net is 9 meters wide and 4 feet high on either end and each team consists of 3 players. The ball is roughly the size of a basketball, is made of rubber, has bells inside, and weighs 2.8 pounds. The objective is to bowl the ball across the court and past the defenders, into the net. All players are blindfolded to make it an even playing field, since some players may have more vision than others. You stop the ball by listening for the bells then laying down in front of it. At the highest Men’s levels, the ball is can be travelling over 75kph or 46.6 mph. You have around half a second to respond to the ball, so staying focused is essential.
Not only is Goalball an incredibly fast paced and exciting sport, but also very unique. Unlike every other Paralympic sport in both Summer and Winter games that is adapted from an able-bodied equivalent, Goalball was created specifically for the blind or partially sighted. As a result, when it is talked about or seen for the first time, spectators often do not know what to make of it. To add to this, Goalball generally does not get as much “screen time” as other Paralympic sports, as again people may not know what they are watching. Quite often Goalball games are not even televised. This is quite the counterproductive thing to do because if it is not shown, then people won’t learn about it, and it runs the risk of remaining “forgotten”.
People may wonder if the reason it isn’t televised is because it’s too boring. As a Goalball player myself, I have asked many people who have come to watch or are volunteering what they thought of it when they saw it. For the most part, sighted people find it very exciting, and one person even compared it to a boxing match because of the quick back and forth pace of the game. A televised sport I would compare it to would be tennis. With a stationary camera set up to show the whole court, the back and forth nature of the gameplay would be very similar.
At the recent 2019 World Juniors in Australia, the Australian home crowd were apparently so into the Goalball games that it was akin to watching a high level soccer or rugby match. Ironically, the people that least enjoy watching a goalball match are other people who are blind that have never played the sport, mainly because they do not know what is going on and there is no equivalent sport to gain the knowledge from. This, however, could be easily remedied with described audio broadcasts.
Overall, the general response I get from people that see the sport played live is one of amazement, wonder and excitement. Goalball is played competitively in over 80 countries around the world by men and women, adults and children, for fun and competitively. That’s why I feel it’s so important to share the knowledge of Goalball and ensure it’s no longer forgotten.
by John Tee