Experiences of the Paralympics & Goalball
You have to have been living under a rock if you haven’t seen the Olympic and Paralympic storm which has gripped London, the UK and quite possibly the world in its emotional and well, gripping hands. If I am honest, back when we got awarded the 2012 games, and even up to about 5 months ago, I was not that fussed. In fact, you could say I was pretty negative about the whole thing. My commute, my city, too busy, too annoying, too much sport. Well. Hold the phone. Because this cynic got all over it the past few weeks.
Despite my cynicism, I’ve had more than a passing interest in Paralympic sport for some time through family, and through Mr S being heavily involved in Goalball for the past 4 years. So we grabbed our tickets for the Men’s Semi Finals for Goalball, which included a day pass and took a trip right down there. I loved the Olympics, but if I’m honest it is our “super humans” that I was most interested in, particularly as the Paralympic Games were founded almost on my doorstep, at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
The Paralympic Games
The Paralympic Games are the second largest sporting event in the world today (behind the Olympics), beginning just over fifty years ago, in Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, England. Founder of the Games Dr. Guttmann, organized the 1948 International Wheelchair Games to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. His dream was of a worldwide sports competition for people with disabilities to be held every four years, just like the Olympics, and 12 years later this happened with the first Paralympic Games in Rome, 1960.
So now you know.
I’ve been brushing up on the different rules of certain sports, the classification process (which can get pretty confusing), and which venues are being used and how these have been adapted for certain Paralympic sports. It has been fascinating, and also hugely inspirational to see how London has embraced these games just as much as the Olympics – with tickets selling out and it being the best attended Paralympics in history.
As well as having a great mooch around the Olympic Park on Thursday afternoon (it really has been fantastically well done – I was amazed!!), I was there to get my Goalball fix. Don’t know anything about Goalball? You aren’t alone. But this is a tactical, complex and incredibly tense sport which is fantastic to watch as a spectator.
- Goalball is a game for blind or partially sighted athletes, both male and female. All players wear eyeshades so that they are totally blindfolded, and this makes it a fairer game.
- Goalball is a game played by two teams of three players with a maximum of three substitutions on each team.
- Each half is 12 minutes long, with the players swapping ends in the middle.
- Goalball is played on an indoor court that is 18m long and 9m wide. The court has tactile markings (string that is taped to the floor), which helps players determine where they are. You’ll often see players feeling for the line.
- The ball weighs about 1.25kgs, and contains internal bells, which help players locate it during play (you cam hear it as a spectator too)
The object of the game is to score a goal by bowling the ball along the floor so that it crosses the goal line of the opposing team. The defending team has to prevent the ball going in to their goal by stopping it while remaining in their team area. They must then try to control the ball and attack by bowling the ball back again thereby trying to score in the other goal.
Now this is not an easy game, and at the highest level it can be incredibly hard to score. The arena has to stay totally silent whilst the ball is in play, and in a lot of ways this makes it really tense. You can hear the bell, you can hear the players shouting tactics to each other. You can also hear and see the players being ever so cheeky by making banging/stamping noises to put off the other team. In a game there are penalties too, and if there is a draw after extra time it can go to sudden death. What with time outs with less than a minute to go to stop play it can get very exciting right up to the final throw. Anything can happen.
I saw some very high quality sport, with Finland beating Turkey 2-0 (the Finnish team are hilarious. So many ponytails) and Brazil beating Lithuania 2-1. Very very close matches. And you know what? The only point that I once realised that these were men playing with a disability was when a penalty was given away because someone had picked up the ball before it crossed a line. I turned to Mr S about to ask why on earth he would do that… when I of course realised he couldn’t see it.
Honestly? I wish we had more paralympic sport on TV, and I’m making it my mission to seek out some regional Goalball matches to go and watch. These athletes are incredible – the sport is just as good (if not better) to watch as what we witnessed during the Olympics.
I’m telling all sports channels, coaches, teams, athletes – we want more of your SUPER HUMAN!!!!