Goalball mania spreads among Berkeley’s blind students

by Anna Madia - 2015.01.20
Goalball mania spreads among Berkeley’s blind students
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American universities are preparing to compete on the goalball court. Similar to netball for the blind, goalball became a competitive sport at the University of Berkeley and it's now gaining popularity in Portland and Long Beach.

The sport was invented after the Second World War to rehabilitate veterans. Now it's a Paralympic discipline as well as a model for inclusive sports in schools. So why is it so successful? The court is just 18 metres long, each player wears a mask covering their eyes, while the ball, thanks to a built-in bell, allows the players to hear every move. Two teams of three play, with each player shouting each other's names when they need to signal a pass.

Matt Grigorieff, a former student and founder of the project Fitness for All at Berkeley, said of the sport's growing popularity: “It's a matter of civil rights.” In fact, between 35 and 50 blind students attend the prestigious university. Before the goalball team was set up, there were no sports they could play, let alone tournaments and championships. But now they can throw themselves on the ground to get the ball, using just their hearing, touch and teamwork.

Before being allowed on the court there's a one-year training course, which is designed for students with visual impairments but is open to all. One of the rules is that there can be only one sighted player per team, although they must wear the mask at all times. Players wear protection on their hips, elbows and knees but noses and faces are uncovered – sometimes leading to minor injuries.

Now Berkeley wants to organise a tournament between different universities. So while Portland and Long Beach get their team in shape to accept the challenge, the famous university near San Francisco is practicing against the Paralympic team. They have one dream: to help create a goalball league with the National Collegiate Athletics Association.

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