Since we had such a great time at the various Pan Am events we went to (beach volleyball, handball, table tennis, and soccer), we decided to check out a couple of Parapan Am events too. Once again, the boys each chose one sport and as it turned out, they each chose one for blind competitors.
The first was 5-a-side football, which is basically soccer for blind athletes. There are four forwards and one goalie on each team, and they play regular soccer with a few differences: (1) the field is much smaller than a regular soccer field, (2) there are boards along the sides so the ball can bounce off, (3) the ball has bells in it, (4) the forwards are all blindfolded (to eliminate any advantages that partially sighted players have over completely blind players), and (5) there are “guides” along the sides and one behind the goal who can yell instructions to the players. There are other rule changes but those are the main ones. I didn’t see any hand balls called but I assume that’s still not allowed, and I think they’ve removed the offside rule.
Uruguay players in red, goalie in yellow. Argentina players in blue and white, their goalie (#1) is in orange. The guys in the middle in gold are the referees, and the guys at each end with the yellow vest things are the “main” guides who stood behind the opposing nets. Each team had two or three other guides who stood along the side boards.
Before we went, I was looking forward to hearing what the guides were saying. Do they have code words for where to move and how far and whether other players are nearby and what direction to face and stuff like that? Or perhaps they simply yell stuff like “the ball is 3 steps to your left and forward one step… OK now turn your body a little bit clockwise… left foot! Shoot NOW!” Unfortunately, the only countries playing this sport in the Parapan Am games were from South America, so all of the guides were yelling in either Spanish or Portuguese, so I still don’t know what they were saying.
The players didn’t run all that fast, and their running looked a little strange since they bounce the ball back and forth between their feet to keep control. They run and dribble much more gently than regular soccer. But then when they shoot it, BLAM! It’s as hard as any soccer player you’ll see anywhere else.
Yes, there were bells in the ball so you could hear it but it really wasn’t that loud. It was certainly odd to be a at a sporting event where the players (and guides) were louder than the fans. They asked for silence from the fans during the game and they got it. Goals and great plays would get some brief applause but in general we were all very quiet. At one point a loud helicopter flew overhead, and they stopped the game for 30 seconds until the sound diminished enough that they could hear again.
Both games we saw were very one-sided. The first was Argentina over Uruguay 6-0. Argentina had 41 “attempts” (presumably shots), 28 of which were on target (i.e. shots on net), while Uruguay had only 4 attempts and only one on target. The other game was Brazil over Chile by the same 6-0 score. The attempts were 31-5 (22-2 on target) for Brazil, and they had 4 straight goals scored by the same guy.
While watching the two games we saw, the word “courage” came to mind for two main reasons. First, obviously it takes courage to not simply say “I’m blind so I can’t play sports”. Just getting out there and trying to play takes some serious cojones. Secondly, you’re on a big field with other players and you can’t see. If it were me, I’d be walking as slowly as possible with my arms in front of me. Not only were these guys not wandering around aimlessly hoping to randomly kick the ball in the right direction, they knew where they were going, and they ran. There were a few collisions and a couple of times we had teammates fighting each other for the ball (until the guides, presumably, straightened them out) but far less than I expected. I think I saw maybe two players accidentally run into the boards in the two games we saw, and in both cases they had already slowed down because they knew they were getting close. These guys are not only running and controlling the ball but they sometimes seem to know when to stop and when and where to shoot. The fact that there were goals scored at all seemed amazing at times, especially given that the goalies had no visual impairments.
Other game notes:
- Penalty kicks were cool – the ref would move the shooter into position, then the guide behind the net would bang on one post and then the other so the shooter had a good idea where to shoot.
- When player changes happened, the ref would grab the player being removed and put the player’s hand on his (the ref’s) shoulder, then walk him off the field, and do the same for the player coming on. When getting set up for a corner kick however, the goalie was much less gentle with his teammates. He’d basically grab players by the shoulders and manhandle them into position.
- Goalies have a tough job. Their crease is really small (probably the same size as a goalie’s crease in hockey, proportional to the net size) and they can’t pick up the ball unless it’s in the crease. It’s possible they can’t touch the ball unless it’s in the crease, because a few times the ball would be just outside the crease and the players couldn’t find it for a few seconds, but the goalie never even attempted to kick it.
- Along with the video above, I’ve posted two other videos (these ones in colour!) on YouTube: this one is only 12 seconds, but this one is about 30.
- As soon as the game was over, some players pulled their blindfolds off while others did not. I assume this indicated the players who were partially sighted vs. the blind players.
Today (Saturday), we’re going to see the gold medal game of goalball, which looks like a kind of blind handball sort of thing. I will write about that one next week.