The Kampala field, where a sizable crowd has gathered to watch a football game, is filled with a variety of sounds: the clamour of a PA system as the players warm up; the muffled murmurs of hundreds of intertwined conversations; and – once the game has started – the sound of the ball loudly crackling over the grass, allowing players to locate it.
The audience quiets down throughout the game at the command of certain stewards because all of the players are blind and rely on deciphering these sounds from one another to move around the field.
The competition is the brainchild of Blind Football Uganda, a group Jagwe Muzafaru, a supporter of disability inclusion, created last year to advance the sport in the nation.
” From a basic concept “
Blind football is a modified version of five-a-side football that is played without the offside rule on a field with an audible ball and “kick-boards,” which are physical barriers that mark the touch lines.
It all started with a simple thought when I saw visually challenged people playing football abroad and wondered whether we might start it in Uganda.
After working as a volunteer for the Uganda Paralympic Committee, Jagwe Muzafaru formed Blind Football Uganda. – Uganda Blind Football
Prior to June 2021, when the International Blind Football Foundation donated a beginning kit, Muzafaru had to make do with goalball balls, which broke apart when kicked. This prevented him from realising his dream of forming a team of visually impaired football players.
Despite being one of the most popular sports in Uganda, visually challenged people typically stick to goalball and athletics instead of playing football.
According to Muzafaru, “[Those sports] don’t accommodate very many people.” Even goalball involves a lot of work, therefore not everyone can readily participate in sports.
“When you look at football, you can train in one day, then you can start playing – and not everyone plays it, some come in just for enjoyment, and that’s the most important thing,” but the main goal was primarily to expand the kind of sports that people with vision impairments can participate in.
Blind Football Uganda already has four men’s teams and two women’s teams, all of which have mixed abilities and categories, just a year after the organization’s founding.
Athletes with visual impairments fall into one of three categories: B1 for those who are completely blind, B2 for those who can see shadows with some vision, and B3 for those with less than 10% functional vision.
Even if they aren’t completely blind, Muzafaru explains, “we still incorporate them in our activities; we blindfold them and then give them that feeling to play around.”
Only B1 players are permitted to engage in blind football under the rules set forth by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), the sport’s regulatory body. However, the goalie must be visible or partially sighted and is not permitted to participate.
To ensure impartiality, participants use opaque eye masks. Uganda Blind Football
Blind Football Uganda is using this model in case B2 and B3 players are also featured in men’s international competitions because the IBSA loosened its rules for women’s football in January 2020, allowing all three classifications to participate together.
Currently, the organisation is planning a league that will coincide with World Cane Day on October 14 and 15 and will focus on domestic rather than international play.
An international web of structures governs how sports are conducted. Along with the IBSA, there are non-profit groups like Para Football that regulate all variations of paralympic football, which in turn are controlled by groups that are particular to each handicap.
The World Cup for cerebral palsy football this year featured no African nations, but Muzafaru asserts that “globally, the international authorities have to recognise that Africa is also part of the world.” The partnership between Blind Football Uganda and IBSA demonstrates this gulf between global organisations and grassroots groups.
Blind Football Uganda organises both practises and games. Uganda Blind Football
However, certain financial difficulties are proving more challenging to overcome.
Rising energy costs are having an effect on daily living in Uganda, as is the case worldwide. According to The Observer, a Ugandan newspaper, the cost of a litre of gasoline climbed from Shs 4,580 ($1.19) in December 2021 to Shs 6,350 ($1.65) in July 2022.
Transporting one person to a training session or game is a little challenging now, according to Muzafaru. “When you look at the current situation you have in the country, the prices of everything are going up… Last year, you could easily move people, we could fund them, and then bring them to training.
He notes that because they are unable to work, visually handicapped persons sometimes reside with their grandparents in more rural places after graduating from school, further driving up transportation costs.