Goalball - a Paralympic revolution

When we lose a sense, our other senses compensate for the loss. The sport of goalball is specifically designed for people with low vision or blindness, who rely on their other senses to navigate the world.

Unlike other Paralympic sports, goalball was not adapted from an able-bodied equivalent. The concept of the sport is unique and combines elements of soccer, lawn bowls, and curling. Anyone can play the sport; however, sighted players are required to wear blindfolds to replicate blindness.

With goalball on our screens at the moment, and our own Aussie Belles competing in Tokyo, we’re breaking down the aim of the game for everyone who might not have seen it played before!

Key points

  • Only three players are allowed on a court at once: this gives players enough space to feel the surface of the court in order to determine the best position for blocking.
  • Players rely on a set of commands given by the referee and bells inside the ball to track direction of play.
  • The main objective is to roll the ball into your opponent’s net while defending your own.
  • The only player who is permitted to stand is the player who is throwing or shooting the ball.

The Players

There are three categories for players: B1 is for players who are totally blind, and B2 and B3 players are the categories for those with limited vision. There is no separate competition for each classification. A sighted player’s classification can be lowered to B1 with blindfolds; this creates a fair playing field for all athletes. Only the referee can be sighted, as they give directions during a game.

Fun fact

You might wonder why players are lying on the ground during a game - they are not playing dead or sleeping - this is a common tactic for blocking shots, like the formation of defenders in a soccer match.

Quiet, please

Goalball is the only team sport where the plays are audio described by the referee, making it easier to watch. As a result, if there is any crowd reaction during play, spectators will be told to be quiet. This is because crowd noise will drown out the sound of the ball.

Try it at home

Goalball demonstrates the importance of hearing for the blind. If you want to try it for yourself, put a blindfold on your friend and ask them to catch a ball. To make it more like the real game, put an object inside the ball, such as frozen peas or rice, or use a pet’s toy with a bell inside it. Good luck!

The Paralympic goalball competition began on 25 August 2021 with the men and women’s preliminary rounds. Paralympic games are televised on Channel 7 or available to stream on the 7+ app until 5 September 2021.

Want to give Goalball a go?

The Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association run programs in Brisbane and Cairns to give people the opportunity to play the sport. 

A professional headshot of Drew. He is wearing a patterned button up shirt and glasses and smiling.
Drew Foulds

Drew Foulds is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Business at Griffith University. He is passionate about travel and accessible activities, having traveled widely both in Australia and overseas. Drew also loves sport, and is a keen Gold Coast Suns supporter.

Sulphur Yellow
Two blindfolded Australian goalball players laying on a wooden court as a blue ball comes towards them