York promotes awareness of disability through goalball

My old sports teacher used to trot out clichés and sayings like they were ‘going out of fashion’. “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”, “second is nowhere” and a personal favourite, “ don’t just come to play, come to win”. Without doubt a very powerful message to expose a group of thirteen and fourteen year olds to. We came to believe in the idea that winning was indeed ‘everything’. However, years later I have to come to terms with the fact that she may have been wrong.

In 1946, to help rehabilitate blinded Second World War veterans, Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle invented the sport of ‘goalball’. Introduced to the world at the 1976 Paralympics, the sport has now become so popular that it is played in every continent across the world.

You might now be asking yourselves “what is goalball?” Goalball is a three-a-side team game played primarily by blind and visually impaired athletes. It is played indoors on a court with tactile markings to enable the players to determine where they are on court. All players are required to wear eyeshades to ensure that no advantage can be gained. Most important, though, is the ball itself. It has internal bells, which allow the players to hear the ball and to locate it during play. The object of the game is to score against the opposition, who are defending the width of the court behind them. The ball is rolled towards the goal (sometimes at speeds of up to 70mph) and the defence must attempt to block it. This is done by diving from a crouched position with arms out stretched and fingers pointed. Unsurprisingly, the team with the most goals wins the game.

To highlight disability sports awareness day, the Student Union, in conjunction with the AU, have invited Kathryn Fielding, an officer with the Disability Organisations, to run a demonstration of goalball in readiness for the upcoming inter-college tournament. For the two or so hours that follow, fully sighted students are turned into bewildered and confused participants. Grasping for the tapered lines, throwing themselves in the opposite direction to the ball, it is all very amusing but this only serves to emphasise a very important point. “Sight is something that we all take for granted. For the blind or visually impaired, sport is something that only sighted people can participate in. Goalball helps dispel that myth. That’s what I help to do.”

Fielding also helps coach the England women’s youth team who were semi-finalists in a recent tournament. “We were unlucky, but that’s sport” she says. “Goalball helps to build confidence. For a blind child or adult, coming to the realization that ‘I can do that’ is an empowering thing. It’s a feeling that motivates and excites.” Thinking about it, it does make a lot of sense. The thrill of being able to play a competitive sport on equal terms with their peers must be empowering.

This also brings us neatly on the biggest benefit, that of inclusion. “It is the best thing about sport, bringing people together, being able to meet people with the same problems as yourself. Realising that you’re not alone”. Ultimately that’s what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It’s all about coming together through sport, regardless of disability. Just being able to play is enough. And that’s why my old sports teacher was wrong. Sorry Miss.

By Christopher Lowther
Deputy Sports Editor

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