December 11, 2016
Kochi: The International Tri Nation Blind Football tourney at Kochi was a unique experience that threw light on how the capabilities of the visually challenged allow them to explore sports in their own special way.
The Indian team that played against Laos and Malaysia saw the spirited Laos team emerge winners at the end of a fast-paced and exciting game, beating Malaysia at a penalty shootout in the final at 2:1.
According to Sunil J Mathew, Coach and Coordinator of the Indian Blind Football team, India has to go a long way in blind football, though sports like blind cricket are popular here. “India with the highest population of blind people at 3.7 crore still has only one blind football team compared to countries like Brazil which has 660 teams.”
SRVC (Society for Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged), an NGO working toward the economic rehabilitation of the visually challenged since 2002, helped form the First Indian Blind Football team in 2013 with the support of IBSA (International Blind Sports Association). The team, ranked number 25 in the world, reached the semi-finals and finished fourth in its first ever international tournament in August 2013. It participated in the Rio Paralympic Qualifiers at Tokyo in 2015, supported by the Tata Trust.
Blind football is played with modified FIFA rules. “Etiquette requires that the audience remain quiet as players need to hear each other and especially the ball,” Sunil says. “There is a lot of dribbling and close control than in a sighted game.”
The field of play of blind football is smaller and surrounded by boards. Teams are reduced to five players each, including the goalkeeper. Teams may also use two guides, positioned off the field of play, to assist in directing players. The ball is equipped with a noise-making device to allow players to locate it by sound. Matches consist of two 25-minute halves, with a 10-minute break at half-time.