Last weekend in Brantford, or Paris to be exact, we finally wrote the next chapter in the development of blind soccer in Ontario and Canada. It seems a long time since the success of the Toronto 2015 Para Pan Am Games. At TO2015 we were fortunate to see the World No. 1 Brazil as they won gold here on route to retaining their Olympic Gold in Rio.
In the time since those games the Ontario Soccer Association in partnership with Ontario Blind Sport Association have delivered sessions for both blind, visually impaired and sighted participants in all corners of Ontario. School sessions in Windsor, Ottawa and Sudbury, complimented with college sessions at Durham College and as part of the annual Variety Village abilities event each October. Upwards of 300 people have had the chance to play blind soccer and the feedback is always positive.
Photo: Group shot with both teams and match official.
Now in 2017, ParaSport Ontario hosted the Winter Game sin Brantford, Ontario and as part of that event Ontario Soccer had committed to run a blind soccer tournament. After a lot of work in three communities (Ottawa, Sudbury and Kitchener) it came down to just Ottawa and Kitchener competing at the Games. Injuries and departures back to school had meant the Sudbury team was left without a viable squad. The Kitchener Soccer Club team had been training hard since September and blended experience with youth to field a team. The surprise package came in the form of the Ottawa team with three B1 categorized players showing that chemistry and communication on the field can give you the upper hand.
Photo: Ottawa team getting ready for Opening Ceremony march in.
It’s important to note that both teams had a blend of blind/visually impaired athletes and some sighted players. All players wore blindfolds to ensure a level playing field and both sets of players learned a lot from the experience. Our blind and VI players took to the game naturally, located the ball quickly with its loud rattle sound and located their position regularly on the field by communicating with team mates and guides. The sighted players were notably tense and limited their movements around the field but they committed to the game wholeheartedly and didn’t seek to gain advantage by peeking under their blindfolds.
As the 2017 Ontario ParaSport Games came to an end the three matches between Kitchener SC and Ottawa were unable to produce a winner, or even a goal. While the build up play for both teams was getting better the power behind the shots was not at a level yet to challenge the sighted goalkeepers. The physicality of the game also seemed to surprise some players but on the positive side the use of the word ‘voy’ was well used and enabled players to enjoy safely moving around the field.
Photo: Sudbury team ready for Game One with Pachi.
From here the plan is to grow the number of teams in time for the 2019 ParaSport Ontario Games and provide a viable, healthy 5 team tournament. Sudbury, Kitchener and Ottawa are committed to this sport for the long haul and will work together in planning meets during the year. Ultimately, community based Clubs need to provide a local playing opportunity for their players. It’s important to note this doesn’t mean you MUST find 8 blind or visually impaired players for training and competition. Even if your Club has one blind athlete then you surround them with sighted players in blindfolds and your good to go.
If you want to get started with blind soccer as a player, coach or match official, feel free to contact me via this blog or Twitter @mattgreenwood74