Sport for Good Listeners: Goalball

The New York Times Monday June 11, 1990

Sport for Good Listeners: Goalball

By DAVID BLOCK

Published: June 11, 1990

 

WHAT team sport requires quickness, strength, mental toughness, agility, concentration, and blindfolds? Are you stumped? The sport is called goalball and it is played worldwide by the blind and visually impaired.

 

The United States men’s goalball team and women’s team began competition with 15 other countries on Saturday in the 1990 world goalball championships at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. These championships have been held every four years since 1978.

 

Goalball is played by two teams. There are six people on a goalball team, with three players from each team allowed on the court at a time. The goalball positions are center, right wing and left wing. Players guard their positions, but throw themselves in front of the ball when it is rolled into their defensive zones.

 

Goalball is played indoors on a rectangular court, usually a gymnasium floor. The goalball court is approximately the length of a basketball court, about 18 meters, and 9 meters wide.

 

Two teams square off for two seven-minute periods in which they try to score by rolling the goalball into the other team’s net, which is 30 feet wide and 4.3 feet high. The goalball is similar to a basketball except that a goalball has bells inside. It is rolled like a bowling ball, although it does not have holes.

 

Once the ball is rolled, the defense blocks the ball, with either their hands or feet. They can also kneel, stand or dive sideways onto the ground and use their bodies as shields to stop the lightning-fast shots. The defense then becomes the offense and has eight seconds to try to score.

 

When two good teams play, the final scores are usually pretty low, perhaps 3-2 or 2-0.

 

It sounds simple, but it’s not. Every goalball player on the court, blind, sighted or partly sighted, must wear eyeshades. So listening becomes crucial.

 

”The blindfolds make it so sighted people can play with the blind on an equal footing,” explained Roel Moberts of the Netherlands, the goalball chairman of the International Blind Sports Association.

 

Much of the court, particularly the positions where the players stand, is marked with sash cord, which enables them to tell if they are in their positions. Spectators must be silent when the ball is rolled, but can cheer when the players make saves and score goals.

 

There are two goalball referees, a timekeeper and two scorekeepers who officiate a game. Referees must be fully sighted and must be licensed with I.B.S.A. in order to officiate.

 

When goalball first developed after World War II, it was not meant to be a competitive game, but rather was a way of rehabilitating the German soldiers who lost their vision in the war.

 

Goalball did not formally become a competitive game among the blind until 1976, when it was played at the Olympic Games for disabled athletes in Toronto.

 

In 1976 goalball was introduced in the United States. To keep goalball at a competitive level, the international association set up the goalball championships in 1978. The United States men’s team has never brought home the gold, but the women’s team won in 1982 and 1986. Goalball is played by about 1,500 people in 35 countries.

 

To find out if there is a goalball club in your area, contact your state agency for the blind. If there are no goalball clubs in your area or if the agency does not know what goalball is, then write to Steve Kearney at P.O. Box 309, Muskogee, Okla. 74401. Write to Kearney if you wish to purchase a goalball. It is not sold in stores.