Blind or partially-sighted football is an adaptation of football for athletes with visual impairments.
It is a 5-a-side game usually played on a hard court, with a modified futsal ball.
It is a fast and skillful sport that is growing worldwide, with national leagues, regional and world championships, and a Paralympic competition.
Spain are considered the pioneer of blind soccer, having played the sport since the 1920s. Brazil, on the other hand, started developing soccer 5-a-side in the 1960s and held the first national tournament in 1974 or 1978, depending on which source you believe. The first Spanish national championships took place in 1986.
In 1996 blind football became an International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) official sport (we named our official sound football Stryker96 in acknowledgement of the year). After establishing internationally recognised rules the following year saw the first IBSA European Championships held in Barcelona, Spain, and the first American Championships took place in Asunción, Paraguay. The sport was added to the Summer Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004.
How blind football is played
Matches consist of two halves of 20 or 25 minutes, with a 10 minute break for half-time. Time-outs can be called by either team in each half, and these last for one minute.
Each team has five players on the pitch at any time, four outfield players who are visually impaired, and a goalkeeper. Each team also has five substitutes. Substitutions are unlimited, but restricted to a maximum during each half, and can be made when the ball is out of play or of course at half time.
All outfield players wear a blackout eyeshade to ensure that competition is on equal terms. Shin guards are also required.
The goalkeeper can be sighted or visually impaired. He or she must stay in their penalty area throughout the game, but can issue instructions to the outfield players. Each team has two sighted coaches able to communicate advice to the players, positioned on the halfway line and behind the goal that their team is attacking. In general the coach behind the attacking goal directs the forward players, the coach on the side-line instructs the midfield players, and the goalkeeper will help to organise the defence.
The pitch can be of cement, grass or artificial turf. For international competition the playing area is 38 to 42 metres long and 18 to 22 metres wide.
There are no throw-ins and there is also no off-side rule. This makes the game very fast, with few interruptions to play. The ball goes out of play if it goes over the kickboards or hits the ceiling of an indoor pitch. The game is restarted by a kick-in.
Below is an introductory video to Blind 5-a-side football, which also gives a glimpse of what a fast and skillful game it is:
The ball has sound devices so that players can hear where it is, even when spinning through the air.
The pitch is surrounded by rebound panels, which are sometimes designed to create an acoustic echo to help the players know their own position (by clicking their fingers) and to locate each other and the ball as it goes in and out of play. The playing area will often be uncovered to improve the acoustics.
To try and prevent injuries, players must shout the word ‘voy’ (Spanish for ‘I go’) or ‘go’ before attempting to make a tackle, so that the player with the ball is aware of where the tackle is coming from and can prepare for any contact.
If there is a penalty kick, the attacking coach will tap both the vertical posts and cross bar, so that the player knows by sound where to place their penalty.
The crowd stays as silent as possible when the ball is in play, so that players can hear the ball, and communications from their coaches.
Football 5-a-side players are assigned to one of three sport classes based on their level of visual impairment:
- B1- Totally or almost totally blind; from no light perception up to light perception but inability to recognise the shape of a hand.
- B2- Partially sighted; able to recognise the shape of a hand up to a visual acuity of 2/60 or a visual field of less than 5 degrees.
- B3- Partially sighted; visual acuity from 2/60 to 6/60 or visual field from 5 to 20 degrees
For blind football tournaments players must be classified as B1.
B2 and B3 players can compete in Partially Sighted Football, with slightly different rules to blind football.
In the UK, the National Blind League has introduced a classification that allows players on the lower end of the B2 category to be classified as B1b and participate in the league. This is for players whose sight loss stops them from playing competitively in partially-sighted football but are not eligible for international blind football.
Rules and Refereeing
Teams are allowed to commit a maximum of five fouls in each half, after that an 8 metre penalty is awarded for each foul. Direct free kicks are awarded for foul play such as handball, sliding tackles, tackling with excessive force, not shouting ‘voy’ when tackling, kicking, holding, pushing or tripping an opponent.
Indirect free kicks are awarded if a goalkeeper handles the ball from a back pass, if a player plays it back to the goalkeeper before the ball has first crossed the half way line, and for various conduct such as obstruction or making sounds to put off an opponent.
The governing body for blind football is the International Blind Sports Federation, or IBSA. You can download the IBSA Blind Football rules 2017-2021 here (opens in a new window)
Each game can have up to three referees working. IBSA is keen to get more internationally qualified referees, you can find out more about refereeing here.
Blind football Equipment
All outfield players must wear blackout eyeshades. Our Goalfix Eclipse eyeshades are the only ones currently approved for IBSA competitions.
Players must wear shin guards. Head protection for all outfield players is also highly recommended, to prevent injury. Such as the Goalfix Halo360 Headguard which can be used on its own, or with our eyeshades.
The ball is between 60cm and 62cm in circumference, and between 510g and 540g in weight. There are various models available, at Goalfix we produce the IBSA approved Stryker ball which has six different sound devices strategically placed in order to generate a loud consistent sound and balanced roll.
Rebound panels are required to surround the entire playing area. Our Goalfix blind football rebound panels are 2 metres long by 1 metre high and designed to be safe to touch or be in contact with without causing injury. they are set at a 10˚ angle.
Blind Football goals are 3.66 metres wide and 2.14 metres high. Posts and crossbar are 8cm wide. Goalfix supplies a freestanding portable goal with rounded posts.
The video below shows Goalfix goals in action at the 2017 European Blind football Championships in Berlin.
Collisions are common and are responsible for many injuries, which is why IBSA recommend wearing head protection.
Blind football is said to have had the highest injury rates at the Paralympics held in London in 2012.
We only know of one small study into injury risk for blind footballers, which was conducted in Brazil – you can find that study here.
International Blind Football Tournaments
There are a host of international and regional tournaments for blind football, the most high profile of which are the Paralympics and World Championships.
Blind Football (known in the Paralympics as Football 5-a-side) featured for the first time at the Athens 2004 Paralympics, and has been contested at every Games since with the mighty Brazil winning gold at every event.
In 2016 Iran caused a huge upset by claiming the silver medal. The same Games also saw Morocco debut, and score the first goal by an African side.
- Athens 2004 – six countries competed – gold Brazil, silver Argentina, bronze Spain
- Beijing 2008 – six countries competed – gold Brazil, silver China, bronze Argentina
- London 2012 – eight countries competed – gold Brazil, silver France, bronze Spain
- Rio 2016 – eight countries competed – gold Brazil, silver Iran, bronze Argentina
- Tokyo 2020 – postponed until 2021
IBSA World Blind football Championships
World Championships have been held since 1998 and now take place every four years, in between the Paralympics.
The 2018 championships were held in Madrid. Sixteen teams took part, with Brazil becoming champions for the fifth time. the only other winners to date are Argentina, with two victories.
The video below has highlights from the 2018 championships.
- 1998 – Brazil – champions Brazil
- 2000 – Spain – champions Brazil
- 2002 – Brazil – champions Argentina
- 2006 – Argentina – champions Argentina
- 2010 – England – champions Brazil
- 2014 – Japan – champions Brazil
- 2018 – Spain – champions Brazil
In 2020 the first Women’s Blind World Championships were due to take place in Niger.
There have also been four B2/3 Partially Sighted Football World Championships, the most recent in 2019 which was won for the fourth time by Ukraine, who beat England in the final. Seven teams took part.
IBSA World Games
The IBSA World Games take place every four years.
- 2007 – Brazil – champions Brazil
- 2011 – Turkey – champions Iran
- 2015 – Korea – champions Argentina
- 2019 – not held
The 2023 event will take place in Birmingham, UK.
In 1997, the first IBSA European Championships took place in Barcelona, Spain, while Asuncion, Paraguay, hosted the first American Championships.
The current European champions are Spain, who beat France in the final of the 2019 tournament. England secured third place over Turkey.
The first Asian championships were held in 2005, the current champions are China.
The first African championships were held in 2014, the current champions are Morocco.
There are numerous other tournaments, such as the ParaPan American Games.
National Leagues and information
Blind football in the UK
There are blind and partially sighted clubs competing in leagues and cups throughout England.
The English FA have a web page on how to get involved with blind football.
Metro Blind Sport is a club in London.
Merseyside Blind football Team was founded in 2011.
We’d love to provide more information about clubs in the UK, especially in Wales or Scotland, so if you know of any please drop us a line.
You can find information about the English men’s blind and partially sighted football teams on the FAs Para Football web pages.
Blind football in Europe
These national associations and leagues are a good starting point for information.
Ireland – Vision Sports
Germany – blindenfussball bundesliga
Other Associations and Links
India – Blind Football India
Japan – Blind Soccer Japan
We’d love to provide more information about blind football associations, leagues and clubs. If you can help please get in touch
Goalfix Sports is a specialist supplier of adaptive sports equipment and high quality footballs goals. We supply a range of IBSA approved equipment for blind football.