Mexican soccer league for the visually impaired
A Blind Soccer player during training. (PHOTO: Courtesy of UNAM)

Inclusion in shouting “Goal!” is the inspiration behind the soccer league project for the visually impaired, which will kick off in Mexico in April. A total of 10 teams will participate: 9 of them from the country’s different states, plus one team representing the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

The tournament has been planned for three years by the Mexican Federation of Sports for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and its full implementation has been delayed due to logistical difficulties arising from the pandemic.

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A sport that requires a lot of contact and a sharp ear

This way of playing is called Blind Soccer. Each team is made up of four blind or visually impaired players with blindfolds that completely cover their eyes, plus a goalkeeper without any visual impairment.

The field measures 40 by 20 meters and is surrounded by a fence so that the ball doesn’t go out of play. There’s no offside so as not to interrupt the action. Matches consist of two 20-minute halves, plus a 10-minute half-time.

Behind one team’s goal, there’s also the opposing team’s guide, the person who gives instructions to the strikers to score a goal. The guide is essential because they become the athletes’ eyes on the far side of the field,” explains Alejandrina Zamora, president of Adapted Sports at UNAM, in an interview for Tec Review.

Meanwhile, instructions are given by the coach in midfield, and at the other end, there’s the goalkeeper, who having no visual impairment, can give instructions to the team’s defenders.

There are also two referees without visual impairment who normally participate on the field calling fouls, although their criteria isn’t so strict, because players require physical contact to be able to better position themselves on the field. So, pushing isn’t usually penalized.

In addition, the public must remain silent during the game, so that players can hear the sound of the ball. They can only shout or clap when there’s a goal.

“The lads develop their sense of hearing in order to know where the ball is, whether at the feet of their opponent or their own team. It’s a ball with normal measurements, but it has bells inside so that they can hear it,” says Zamora.

Teams representing Aguascalientes, Baja California, Mexico City, Coahuila, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, and UNAM will begin the tournament, which will last for one year. Sessions will be bimonthly. One month, it’ll be the away game, and the following month, the return game.

“The UNAM plays on April 17 against Hidalgo, and it’s their turn to host the match. There’s currently only a men’s league, but as word has spread, there are already girls who are interested. So, there’s also the proposal to form a women’s league in the future,” says this university sports official.

Inclusion around the ball

Nevertheless, only men play the sport and women take part as guides and coaching staff. Players must be over 18 years of age and in good physical condition.

This worthy project targets the sector of around 2.2 million people in Mexico with visual impairment and 415,800 people with blindness. According to data from the Mexican Society of Ophthalmology, Mexico is among the top 20 countries with the highest number of people affected by these disabilities.

“It really provides total inclusion, and on a personal level, that gives confidence. It’s the integration that human beings need to interact, and going beyond disability, it motivates people to develop skills,” says Zamora.

At the Paralympics

Blind Soccer is a sport that’s been part of the Paralympic Games since 2004, when they were held in Athens, the Greek city where the Olympics emerged more than two thousand years ago.

The Olympic ideal that emerged in classical Greece, so linked to total physical and mental development, will gain new vigor from April, when these boys are free to shout “Goal!” on the pitch.