Since June, my daughter and her friends planned to attend the ParaPan Am games. They spent hours discussing which sport to go and watch: they perused the options available and spent time watching videos of each game. They decided on attending the 5-a-side blind soccer matches. School ended and the PanAm Games began. My daughter’s desire to attend a game played by those with physical disabilities did not abate.
Last week I accompanied my daughters and friends to watch the first series of matches for the blind soccer competition. After our TTC ride (public transit), we walked to the arena and knew we had arrived at our destination when we saw the brightly coloured graphics representing the PanAm Games.
We chose our seats on the stands – avoiding the heat of the sun. I was looking forward to the match as I had never seen one before. I noticed with interest that the field is a lot smaller than that of regular soccer (about a tenth of the size) and that pitch is surrounded by side boards (which will keep the ball on the field).
During play I noticed a few of the other rules (I had not looked them up before attending the game). The goalie (who is sighted) is allowed to shout directions to their team mates without leaving his post in front of the goalie box. In addition to the goalie shouting directions, each team has a coach who stands behind the opposing team’s goalie box and who can give directions on where and when to shoot the ball. At times another coach shouts directions from the midfield sidelines where he is watching the game. For the games we watched, the players were speaking in Spanish so I was unable to understand the actual words that were said.
During the game, the player who is near the ball shouts out the word “voy” (Portuguese for “I am here”) to alert the others of his presence. I learned later that if a player does not do this, he will receive a penalty. I am sure you are thinking that there is a lot of shouting going on – and there is! But it did not detract from my enjoyment of the game at all. The players, the goalies and the coaches are shouting – but not the audience. We were reminded a few times to not cheer as the noise would distract the players. Sometimes it was hard to keep quiet – especially when the scoring a goal was missed by fractions of an inch!
You may have noticed in the pictures that all of the players wear blindfolds. This is to equalize all the players as some are partially blind. At times, play was stopped when the referees (dressed in yellow shirts) noticed that the blindfolds were slipping. I noticed that the men who referreed the game took care with the players. Not only did they ensure the players’ blindfolds were comfortable, but they also placed the players in position when they were to kick the ball after a penalty or if the ball had gone off the field.
The ball itself is different to a regular soccer ball: it is heavier than usual and is filled with plastic ballbearings that make a loud rattling sound when kicked. The players listen for the sound of the ball to help them know where it is. I noticed the referees shaking the ball before they placed it on the floor in front of the player for the penalty kicks. They did this until the player indicated that they knew where the ball was.
What amazed me was that the players ran with no fear, trusting in their hearing to play the ball.
Watching the games definitely highlighted that a person is able to follow their dream, no matter what the obstacles. These men may be blind but that has not prevented them from following their passion and playing a game that they love.
As we left the arena to go home, I was grateful for my daughter’s desire to attend a game at the ParaPan Am Games. Her wish led me to experience something I never thought I would.
Have you watched a game of blind soccer?
© Colline Kook-Chun, 2015