Blind football: organization opens new horizons for visually impaired Ugandans

All players are visually impaired and rely on detecting all these sounds from each other to move their way around the field, so the crowd is calm during the match under the supervision of some referees.

The match is the brainchild of Blind Football Uganda, an organization founded last year by disability inclusion advocate Jagwe Muzafaru to promote and develop the sport within the country.

“It started from a simple idea [after] I have seen football played by visually impaired people outside. I wondered if we could start in Uganda,” Mozavaro told CNN Sport.

Originally, Mazafaro used balls designed for goal football – a throwing game created specifically for visually impaired athletes – that disintegrated when kicked, until June 2021 when a donation of a starter kit by the International Blind Football Foundation allowed him to realize his idea of ​​a visually impaired football team .

Although football is one of the most popular sports in Uganda, it is not traditionally practiced by visually impaired people who are committed to athletics and goal football.

“[Those sports] “It doesn’t take in a lot of people,” Muzafaru says. “Not everyone can easily take part in athletics… Even goal football is so demanding.

“When you look at football, you can train in one day, then you can start playing – not everyone plays it, some come just for fun and that’s the most important thing. [thing]. But the main thing is to expand the scope of what people with visual impairments play. ”

Just a year after its formation, Blind Football Uganda now consists of four men’s teams and two women’s teams, which have mixed abilities and rankings.

Visually impaired athletes fall into one of three classifications – B1 for those who are completely blind, B2 for those who have some vision and can see shadows, and B3 for those with less than 10% functional vision.

“Even if they are not completely blind, we engage them in our activities, blindfold them, and then give them the feeling of playing,” Muzafaru says.

Under rules set by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) – the sport’s governing body – only B1 players can compete in blind soccer, although the goalkeeper must be visible or visually impaired and contained in a restricted area.

Players wear opaque eye masks to ensure fairness.

IBSA relaxed its requirements for women’s football in January 2020, allowing all three classifications to play together, and Blind Football Uganda follows this model in the event that B2 and B3 players are subsequently included in men’s international competitions.

At the moment, the organization organizes a local rather than an international competition in a periodic format coinciding with the International Cane Day on October 14 and 15.

Prices for everything

Disability sports operate under a network of international structures. In addition to the IBSA, there are non-profit organizations, such as Para Football, that oversee all forms of Paralympic football, which in turn are governed by their own disability-specific organizations.

“Globally, international bodies have to accept the idea that Africa is also a part of the world because you can take a look at … the Cerebral Palsy World Cup … this year. There was no African country represented, but they invited It’s the World Cup.”

CNN has reached out to tournament organizers – the International Football Association Board CP (IFCPF) – for comment.

This disconnect between international structures and grassroots organizations is evident in the relationship of blind people in Uganda with IBSA.

After building an organization with no outside technical knowledge, using only YouTube and the internet for guidance, Muzaffar hopes to share his newfound experience with international organizations that promote the sport.

He adds, “Everything I was doing, no one even asked us from the international body… how to do it, how they could join us and help us.”

CNN has also reached out to IBSA for comment.

Despite the lack of significant assistance and financial constraints currently limiting their ambitions, Mazhafaru and his team are finding ways to overcome these challenges through online crowdfunding and improvising some of the required equipment.

“I sit with my team, and I say to them, ‘Can we develop something similar to what we saw on TV? “…so we sit down and develop something.”

For example, when we look at[kick] Boards, we make them of wood. Then we cover it with some clothes so that it is not harmful if someone knocks it.”

Blind Football Uganda organizes trainings as well as matches.

However, some financial challenges have proven more difficult to tackle.

As is the case around the world, rising energy prices are affecting daily life in Uganda with the price of a liter of petrol rising from 4,580 shillings ($1.19) in December 2021 to 6,350 shillings ($1.65) in July 2022, according to The Observer, a Ugandan newspaper. .

“When you look at the current situation you’re in in the country, the prices of everything go up… Last year, you could easily move people, we could finance them and then bring them to training… Now moving one person in training or a match, it’s a bit difficult” , says Mazafaro.

Visually impaired people often live with their grandparents in remote areas after school because they are unable to work, he explains, which increases transportation costs.

These things create a social life.

In this environment, Blind Football programs in Uganda can change societal attitudes towards people with disabilities and improve the mental health of participating athletes, particularly after the lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Most people who are completely blind, since they became blind, go from home to school, and from home to school,” says Mazafaru.

“They don’t have any other activities because even their parents restrict them. They think some things might be more dangerous for them because of their poor eyesight. When you talk to their parents, when… they see them playing, these things create a social life that they haven’t interacted with before.”

Blind football can be played indoors or outdoors.
The impact of sport on mental health, especially for people with disabilities, is well documented. In a 2014 study by British Blind Sport, participants identified competition, health benefits and social interaction as their primary motivations for playing blind football.

“It helps them not to be exposed to a situation like depression and loneliness, [or] They limit when they join or come and play football,” adds Mazafaru.

Using social media, Muzafaru intends to expand the organization to areas outside Kampala, providing more opportunities for visually impaired people to play football.

“People have seen what we’re doing, and people have been curious and asking, ‘How can a blind person play?'” he says. “So these sites also help me rally the people, the audience that comes to our events.”

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