Goalball: A Sport for Blind and Visually Impaired Athletes

The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0 / The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The international Paralympic Games include many of the same sports that are played in the Olympics. But in addition to events like swimming, rowing, badminton, and soccer, there’s also a sport designed exclusively for athletes who are blind and visually impaired.

Goalball was first developed in Austria following the end of World War II. Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle were looking for sports-based activities to rehabilitate blind war veterans and came up with the inventive idea of outfitting the insides of balls with bells. It quickly gained traction as a competitive sport with local teams forming in Germany and Austria. Goalball was first introduced on an international platform as a demonstration event during the 1976 Paralympic Games and was made an official event four years later.

The game consists of two teams of three all protecting their respective goals on an indoor court. Players hurl the 3-pound ball toward the opposing team’s net and the defenders use their bodies in attempts to block it. Raised bumps are placed around the court to help players feel the perimeter. Relying on audio cues, including special terms from other team members, is a huge part of the game so the audience is expected to remain silent as it's being played. To equal the playing field between athletes who are blind and those who visually impaired, all players must wear plastic black-out goggles on the court. 

Goalball is largely unknown outside the Paralympics, but organized teams are beginning to pop up in more mainstream venues. This year, UC Berkeley launched what is thought to be the first competitive collegiate goalball team in the U.S., and several other campuses have since followed suit. To watch U.S. goalball players compete on an international level, tune in to next year’s Paralympic Games in Rio.