Goalball is a team sport designed specifically for athletes with a vision impairment. Participants compete in teams of three, and try to throw a ball that has bells embedded inside of it into the opponents’ goal. The ball is thrown by hand and never kicked. Using ear-hand coordination, originating as a rehabilitation exercise, the sport has no able-bodied equivalent. Able-bodied athletes are also blindfolded when playing this sport.
Played indoors, usually on a volleyball court, games consist of twelve-minute halves (formerly ten-minute halves) with three-minute half-time. Where there is a tie, golden goal overtime occurs in the form of two three-minute periods (and a second three-minute half-time). If the tie persists, a paired shootout (‘extra throws’ and ‘sudden death extra throws’) determines the winner. Teams alternate throwing or rolling the ball from one end of the playing area to the other, and players remain in the area of their own goal in both defence and attack. Players must use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball. Eyeshades allow partially-sighted players to compete on an equal footing with blind players. Eyepatches may be worn under eyeshades to ensure complete coverage of the eye, and prevent any vision should the eyeshades become dislodged.
History of the Sport:
Goalball was originally devised in 1946 by Hans Lorenzen, an Austrian and Sepp Reindle, a German as a means of assisting the rehabilitation of visually impaired World War II veterans.
Goalball gradually evolved into a competitive game during the 1950s and 1960s. It was eventually nominated as a demonstration sport at the 1972 Summer Paralympics in Heidelberg, West Germany, and became a Paralympic Games sport at the 1976 Summer Paralympics in Toronto. The sport’s first world championship was held in Austria in 1978.
In 2011, the long-standing IBSA Goalball Subcommittee sought to separate from IBSA and form a new international body, the World Goalball Association. IBSA responded by appointing a new committee.
As of 2017, there were 81 competing nations, and 270 international referees.
Rules – How to Play the Sport:
IBSA goalball rules require the field of play to be 18 meters (59 ft.) long by 9 meters (30 ft.) wide. Goals span the width of the pitch. The court is divided into six even sections, 3 by 9 meters (9.8 by 29.5 ft.). At either end, just in front of the goal, is the team area. Beyond that is each team’s landing zone. The middle two sections are collectively referred to as the neutral zone.
The lines of the court are made by placing tape over lengths of twine. This makes the line both visual (for officials) and tactile (for players). The team area and landing zone, including the boundary, goal lines and high-ball lines, are always marked in this way. Furthermore, the team area has six hash marks (three at the front, one on either side, and one on the goal line) to assist with player orientation.
The ball weighs 1.25 kilograms (2.8 lb.) and has eight holes and contains several noise bells. The ball’s diameter is around 24 centimeters (9.4 in). A non-official ball of about 0.9 kilograms (2.0 lb.) has also been produced by several companies for use by younger players. At Paralympic level, the ball has been measured leaving the hand in excess of 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph). Despite this, through training and some padding, there are very few injuries.
For competitive games, the following set of officials are on the court:
- referees (2) — Each referee remains along the sideline at one half of the court. One referee is ‘table-side’, the other ‘off-table side’.
- goal judges (4) — Positioned to the side of each goal edge, the goal judge raises their hand to confirm to the referee when a ball crosses the goal line. Goal judges are also crucial to the game’s speed since they retrieve a ball going off court and drop it at the side hash mark of the team area so play can resume.
- ten-second timers (2) — Keep track of the time between when a defending player contacts the ball and when the ball is thrown, calling ’10 second’ penalties when applicable. The role was expanded in the 2018 rule changes to include watching for eyeshade and illegal coaching penalties.
- scorer — This technical official keeps track of the number of time-outs and substitutions taken by a team and, as the term suggests, keeps score.
- game timer and back-up timer — Usually, as with a basketball scoreboard, the period’s time counts down to zero. It is stopped and started by the referee’s whistle. A back-up timer is used in case of power failure to the venue.
Each team has three players on the court at a time, with one to three substitute players on the bench.
At an international level, including the Paralympic Games, the competition is divided into two categories, male and female. At other levels, this is a matter for the local organizing committees. For example, in the United Kingdom, at the three levels of competition (novice – regional, intermediate – regional (north and south), and elite – national level), teams may be mixed sex.
There are three standard positions to play: center, right wing and left wing. While there is typically no official designation, players often have a position they are best at or prefer, though some players will play any of the three and players are free to change position during a match with no prior announcement (and may do so for tactical reasons).
The center player is the player most responsible for defense. The player typically lines up at the center orientation mark at the front of the orientation area (the 3.0 meters (9.8 ft.) line forward of the goal post), further forward than the wings which helps to avoid collisions between players diving towards the direction of the ball. Other defensive arrangements are possible, but less common. The center player is the most defensive position simply because the player is able to move both to the left and right to defend, covering a greater proportion of possible attacking shot lines. The center player may also be the defensive coordinator.
The left and right wingers generally line up at the end of the orientation marks from the respective sidelines, at the 1.5 meters (4 ft. 11 in.) orientation mark. Their main defensive responsibilities are keeping the ball out of either corner of the goal, though they also defend towards the center. Typically, the wingers are the main offence because there are some advantages to the angles of shots possible from their positions. This also allows the center player to reserve their energy for defense, though the center player may also have an offensive role.
A goal scores one point, and is scored when the ball completely crosses the goal line. The team with the higher score at the end of regulation time is the winner. If regulation results in a tie, two three-minute overtime periods are played, for a golden goal (first goal concludes the game). If no goal is scored during overtime, penalty throws and sudden death penalty throws are taken. Should a goal difference of ten be reached, a mercy is called and the leading team is declared the winner.
The game relies heavily on the sense of hearing instead of sight, so all outside noise, including cheering, clapping, chanting or ringtones from cellphones, is prohibited. The crowd is therefore repeatedly reminded to remain silent, and referees preface their call “Play!” with “Quiet, please!”. Coaches cannot speak whilst the ball is in play, and so cannot influence the game.
Players, regardless of the degree of vision, wear blackened-out eyeshades which allow no light in, to ensure fairness. Fully-sighted individuals may play the sport while wearing eyeshades.
Beginning of play, the team winning the coin toss usually starts with the ball.
To score, a player must roll or bounce the ball down the length of the court, past the opposing defenders, and into the opponents’ goal. Typically, the player with the ball will stand, orient themselves using the tactile lines, sounds from teammates, and/or the crossbar of their own goal. The player will then stride forward, lean low, and roll or side arm the ball down the court.
The ball must hit in the player’s own landing zone, and anywhere in the neutral zone. So long as it hits each zone, the style of throw is entirely up to the player in question. Many players will take several strides and release the ball as close to their own high ball line as possible; leaning low to ensure a legal throw. Some players will throw after spinning; transferring the momentum of the spin into additional velocity. Others are able to throw the ball so that it will bounce just once in each of the required zones. Most elite players are effective when using multiple types of throws.
The defending players stay within the team area, generally in somewhat staggered positions to avoid collisions. When they hear the other team throw the ball, they ‘lay out’, that is slide on their hips and stretch their arms above their heads and extend their legs in order to cover as much distance as possible. The objective is simply to keep the ball from getting past with whatever part of the body the player can get in front of it.
Some players prefer to block the ball with their chests and absorb the impact. Others like to block with their legs so the ball will roll up their bodies into their hands. Regardless of method, the players will always try to make themselves as long as possible to block the greatest area.
Infractions are generally punished by the loss of possession to the other team.
- Premature throw – Throwing the ball before the official has called ‘play’.
- Ball over – The ball rebounds off a defending player, the crossbar or goalposts, and crosses back over half-court.
A penalty throw may be awarded for:
- Ten second penalty – A team takes more than ten seconds to throw the ball back over the center line.
- Delay of game – This can be caused by many different things. A coach reporting the wrong numbers for substitutions, a team not arriving in time for the coin toss that precedes the game, or too many or too few players taking the court.
- Illegal defense – This is called if a defender makes contact with the ball while no part of the body is touching the team area.
- Short ball – The ball fails to reach the opponent’s team area when thrown.
- High ball – The ball does not touch the thrower’s landing zone when thrown.
- Long ball – The ball does not touch the neutral zone when thrown.
- Eyeshades – Touching eyeshades without permission.
- Unsportsmanlike conduct – This can be a variety of things, from arguing with an official to pounding the floor and swearing
- Noise – Unnecessary noise by the offensive team that prevents the defense from tracking the ball while the ball is travelling down the court.
- Illegal coaching – Coaching from the bench during play or after an official has said ‘Quiet please’ with intentions of continuing or starting play. From 2006, rules allowed coaching from the bench during an official time-out.
The official rules for the sport are provided on the IBSA website. Rules may be adjusted every four years.
Referees may be internationally certified under a structured scheme, from IBSA Goalball Level 1 to Level 3. Goalball world championships and Paralympic tournaments are called by Level 3 referees. Participating countries may also have a national referee scheme.
Changes over time have seen regulation period halves increase from seven, to ten, to the present twelve minutes. Team staff were limited to when coaching could occur, but now it is after any whistled stoppage in play. Rules such as step-over and third-time throw have been removed. The ball must be thrown back towards the opposition goals within ten seconds from contact. In 2014, this was extended to reaching the center line to ensure a quicker delivery. Eye patching was introduced under the eye shades to reduce cheating.