Paralympic Sports: Goalball

Every few years, millions of people around the world watch the Olympic and Paralympic games. While you may be familiar with many Olympic sports, there are two sports unique to disabled athletes: boccia and goalball. 

Goalball is specifically designed for athletes with disabilities, relying heavily on sensory and spatial awareness skills. The team sport is played indoors with a ball equipped with bells. Similar to sports like soccer or lacrosse, the aim is to get the ball into an opponent's goal while protecting your own. Each team has three players, who are all blindfolded to create a fair game. 

Exploring Goalball: Its History and Rules 

Originating in 1946, goalball was developed for visually impaired World War II veterans. Over time, it evolved into a competitive sport and made its Paralympic debut in 1976. The object of the game is similar to almost any sport played with a ball: aim the ball towards the opponent's goal and defend your own goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins. 

Rules of Goalball 

Even though goalball can look like other sports, there are a few rules to ensure fair play among all athletes including: 

  • Eye masks: All athletes, regardless of whether they are completely blind, or if they have some remaining vision, wear an eye covering during the game to ensure no athlete has a visual advantage over the other. 

  • Silence: During gameplay, spectators and coaches must remain silent to ensure players can hear the goalball. 

  • Throwing the goalball: Players must throw the ball underhand, making sure it touches the floor at least once on the opponent’s side to allow athletes to hear it. This rule also prevents the ball from being thrown too hard or too high, reducing the risk of injury to athletes. 

Aside from general rules, there are a few adaptations made to accommodate athletes with visual disabilities. These adaptations include: 

  • The goalball: Goalballs have bells inside them, so athletes can hear where the ball is, and therefore, defend their goal. 

  • Orientation: Before a game starts, players are allowed to touch and familiarize themselves with the court layout, including the goalposts and boundary lines. 

  • Quiet flooring: The flooring of the goalball court is designed to minimize sound, allowing players to hear the movement of the ball. 

Eligible Impairments for Goalball Participation 

Despite all players wearing eye masks to level the playing field, goalball, like many other Paralympic sports, has a classification system, ranging from B1 to B3. 

First, eligible athletes must have less than ten percent visual acuity- essentially, they must have less than ten percent of remaining vision. Once visual acuity is determined, athletes are given a classification. These classifications include: 

  • B1: No light perception or inability to recognize shapes. 

  • B2: These athletes can only see at 20 feet what someone with 20/20 vision could see from 30 feet away. 

  • B3: These athletes have slightly clearer vision than B1 and B2 athletes, however, they can only see at a 10-foot distance what someone with 20/20 vision could see from 20 feet away. 

Like all disabilities, blindness is a spectrum, so people with varying levels of remaining vision may qualify for goalball. You can learn more about classifications specific to goalball, as well as classification systems used in other Paralympic sports on the Paralympic website. 

Goalball: Equipment and Training 

Just like wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby require specialized equipment, goalball does too. Aside from the goalball itself and the eyeshades athletes wear, there are a few other pieces of equipment used to allow athletes to orient themselves on the court and stay safe during gameplay. 

  • Court markings: The outer bounds of the court are marked with tactile lines made from string placed under tape. These lines help players orient themselves to stay inside court bounds. 

  • Uniforms: Like volleyball, many goalball players use knee pads. The uniforms goalball players wear can also be padded to reduce impact, since athletes can use any part of their body to defend their goal. 

  • Goalposts: Goalball does not have one designated goalie on each team. Instead, the three players on each team defend their goal, which spans the entire width of the court. Goals used in the Paralympics are tactile, so athletes can tell where their goal is by touch. 

Paralympics: Goalball 

While Goalball is primarily played by athletes who are blind or visually impaired, the sport can be enjoyed recreationally by those with and without disabilities, along with other adaptive sports. 

You can learn more about the other sport unique to the Paralympics, boccia, as well as other sports you’ll see in the Paralympic Games in the related articles section below. 

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