In summer 2018, two of the most exciting and inspirational global sports tournaments took place effectively back-to-back.
No, I’m not talking about Wimbledon and the FIFA World Cup. I’m talking about the Goalball World Championships and the Blind Football World Cup.
I was in Malmo, Sweden, to take in as much of the Goalball World Championships as I could. Once again, it was a privilege to have been the exclusive provider of tournament eyeshades helping to create a safe and fair Championships. On returning back to the UK I continued to watch the live streams. The standard of play from both the men’s and women’s teams was extraordinarily high.
From a neutral’s point of view, I was hoping that the US teams would have progressed further. But for the women to lose to the beaten finalists at the quarter-final stage was still a good achievement, and likewise for the men who narrowly lost to Lithuania at the same stage.
I was allowed to watch the Australian ladies’ training session and pre-tournament warm-up game. Seeing it all up-close and watching training drills get executed in real games, I was struck by the incredible skill and talent on show.
These amazing athletes have overcome their disabilities to play this demanding sport at an elite level. I watched Belgian men, who won Bronze, demonstrate tremendous strength, speed and accuracy in their throws, and it’s amazing how subtly they’re able to put a spin on the ball to give it direction. Put it this way: I wouldn’t want to get hit by a goalball thrown by a professional!
These teams are organised, too, expertly balancing the numerous demands of the sport with necessary rest and training. Both goalball and blind football have come such a long way. Each sport has its best players, but in a team game the sum is still better than the parts. And in all the games I watched, the standard has reached a new level. Things have never been this good, and they’re only going to get better.
Both sports have very bright futures. They’re very engaging to watch, and I’m going to do everything I can to encourage as many people to get involved as possible – both as fans and as players. The players are an inspiration for the next generation and I look forward to seeing the sports go from strength to strength in the coming years.
What excites you most about the development of these visually impaired sports?