Kicking off great goals
In a first, TN Blind Football Association will play host to national-level blind football matches for men and women
The origin of blind football is commonly credited to Spain, where it is known to be around since the 1920s. The World Blind Football Championships made its debut in 1998 and Football 5-a-side for the visually impaired was introduced as a sport at the 2004 Paralympic Games.
A century’s worth of history, and yet, it was only in 2018 that Tamil Nadu saw inklings of a state team, and in 2019 that the Tamil Nadu Blind Football Association was established. “It was through the Indian Blind Football Federation (IBFF) in Kerala that I was introduced to Francis Sebastian (a trained blind football coach). He encouraged us to create a team and it took me only a week to find interested people. While we began going to practices and tournaments, I eventually noticed a lack of associations like the ones for blind cricket and volleyball, and thus Tamil Nadu Blind Football Association came to be in 2019,” shares founder Bharathiraja GR.
However, the lost time has not deterred the goals of the association that will be first-time hosts for the sixth men’s blind nationals and the first-ever women’s blind national from October 27 to 30, with IBFF. “This was our plan for 2023 but we have achieved it already. We had aimed for international tournaments by 2024, but now, we can hope for an earlier timeline,” notes coach Sebastian.
The pulse of perseverance
The men have given promising performances on the field, but it is the women who have surprised everyone with only a year of training. “Unlike other blind sports, football is an aggressive, contact sport, so parents were hesitant. But I have gained their trust. It’s not just about representation but the confidence they gain through the sport. I have seen these girls change; they have developed through the game,” narrates Sebastian, who hopes that this confidence transfers to other areas of their lives.
Looking forward to the tournament is college student and player, R Vijayalakshmi, who shares, “I have done running, long jump and discus, but there were no group games in school. I remember watching cricket, football on television and was interested in trying it out. When we began practices for football last year, I was scared about the blindfold but the coach encouraged us and the support of many kept me going. Now, it’s not just about being selected, but winning and making the coach proud.” Recently, a residential camp was organised where 70 participants trained, attended motivational speeches and even enjoyed disco and karaoke nights.
Harbouring a hopeful future
While the teams have shown immense progress, there is much more to be done to ensure that football is adopted in even the smaller districts and villages of the state. “In the North-Eastern states of India, the football culture is popular. The inaccessibility to a jingling ball doesn’t stop them; they fill bottles with pebbles instead. Here, people weren’t much aware of the sport till last year...We have access to the balls, so we are lucky, but the next step is to introduce the game in every blind school. For this, we have to identify coaches from schools, train them and send them back with a jingling ball,” shares Sebastian. TNBFA is currently also searching for committed volunteers who can be trained in the capacities of guides, coaches and referees.
Infrastructural inaccessibility is another issue. The blind team has no homeground of its own. The equipment is privately funded by donors, families and friends. “We need more government support. The aim is to create at least five regional zones for players across the state. Right now, all players are travelling to Chennai for training. If we had regional centres, people from surrounding districts could save their time and effort,” shares Bharathiraja.
To volunteer, visit tnbfa.in
The game involves a jingling ball that acts as the first point of reference and three additional vocal aids — a sighted goalie to guide through the defence area, a head coach for the mid zone and attack area guide who stands behind the goal. There are sideboards that allow players to navigate the field. Since all visually impaired are welcome to participate, all players are blindfolded.