Goalball – the silent sport changing visually impaired women’s lives

From the UK. Goalball is the only team game for visually impaired female athletes in the Paralympics.

From the Women’s Blog, Guardian News

If you are a blind or visually impaired woman wanting to play a team sport in Great Britain, then good luck to you. For years Georgie Bullen was told she was no good at sport by her PE teachers. It was only a chance try-out for a Paralympic talent-identification day that allowed the then teenager to be discovered in a sport she had never even heard of: goalball. The Paralympic sport, played blindfolded and in silence, subsequently changed Bullen’s life both personally and professionally.

“Because I went to mainstream school I was the only VI [visually impaired] person at my school,” says the 20-year-old. “If I didn’t have goalball I wouldn’t even know anyone else who was VI or blind. We bonded over our experiences, like when people realise you’re visually impaired and they say, “Oh, that’s a such a shame because you’re so pretty.””

Goalball gave Bullen the confidence to form relationships and become a leader. The Hertfordshire athlete helped Team GB make history by reaching the quarter finals at London 2012. That result led to the announcement that the women’s team would be given £1m to help them on their journey to Rio 2016. “We went from being the worst-funded British Paralympic sport, to this huge increase. We got new staff on board. But with one bad result at the Europeans, UK Sport decided to take away all our funding. We went from £1m to nothing at all.”

UK Sport says that its decision was based on a meritocratic system – “Sports that could not demonstrate a trajectory towards medal success had funding withdrawn” – though the situation is reviewed on an annual basis. Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of the British Paralympic Association, says they have tried to support goalball in other ways, selecting it to be part of National Paralympic Day at the Olympic Park on 30 August where Team GB will play in the Copper Box arena. “It was a conscious strategy to raise the sport’s profile. Within the Games it is the only team sport for VI women, the differentiator being that for men there’s also the opportunity to play VI football. I’m not aware of any substantive move for that to change.”

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