Blind soccer is exhilarating to both play and watch. An adaptation of the world’s most popular sport for athletes with a visual impairment, blind soccer is fast-paced, physical and technical. Blind soccer players need to have speed, strength and stamina, as well as excellent spatial awareness despite their lack of vision, allowing them to be effective on the pitch and play together as a team. The sport is played in more than 60 countries and has become the fastest-growing Paralympic sport in the world.
In January 2022, the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) received the highest level of certification from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) to become the national governing body for blind soccer, a sport in which Team USA will make its Paralympic debut as the host nation of the Los Angeles 2028 Games. USABA began its blind soccer programming in 2018, and in 2019 USABA became a member organization of US Soccer.
Soccer for the blind and partially sighted originated in schools for people with visual impairments. Spain is considered to be the pioneer of the sport having started play in the 1920s. In the 1960s there was activity in Brazil that held its first national championships in 1974.
Without a governing body at the time, each country played according to different rules and with varying balls, pitches and playing surfaces. However, as the game grew, friendly international tournaments were held.
In 1996, after decades of development by individual countries, football was taken under the wing of the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA).
Internationally recognized rules were developed ahead of the first major international competitions and IBSA moved forward with two disciplines – blind football for B1 athletes and partially-sighted football for B2 and B3 players. The two groups still compete separately today.
With a set of rules in place, the first IBSA Blind Football European Championships and IBSA Partially Sighted Football European Championships were both held in Barcelona, Spain, in 1997. The hosts became the first-ever champions in both tournaments.
In the same year, the Blind Football American Championships made their debut in Asunción, Paraguay. Brazil claimed the win, proving their innate ability on the field extends to more than just sighted football. One year later, at home in Campinhas, Brazil captured the first IBSA Blind Soccer world title.
In partially sighted football, the opening world championships were also held in Campinhas, Brazil. Belarus made history as the inaugural winners of that tournament. Blind soccer debuted at the Paralympic Games for the first time at the Athens 2004 Paralympics and has been contested at every Paralympic Games since.
People are often surprised by how quick, physical and technical blind soccer is. This is what makes it such a hugely popular sport.
The game is played on a solid, smooth, flat and non-abrasive surface on a pitch that is 40m x 20m wide. Pitches must ideally be outside to ensure that the acoustics are correct for players. Each pitch is surrounded by ‘kick-boards’ – a physical barrier that indicates the boundaries of the playing area.
The goals are 3.66m wide and 2.14m high.
Each team has five players, including a goalkeeper. Outfield players must wear eye patches and eyeshades, more commonly referred to as blindfolds or eyeshades. The goalkeeper can be sighted or partially sighted, classified as B2 and B3, and cannot leave the area.
The ball must contain bells or another system that ensures it makes a noise when it is moving on the pitch or through the air.
Four players are allowed as substitutes and one goalkeeper. Substitutes can be made up to six times per half.
There are no offside rules or throw-ins in blind soccer but there are corner kicks.
Each half lasts 20 minutes and teams can request a one-minute timeout per half.
If there needs to be a winner of a game, for example during medal matches, penalties will be taken. The first-ever Paralympic final was decided on penalties when Brazil beat Argentina 3-2!