Blind Football: the organization opening up new horizons for visually impaired Ugandans


All of the players are visually impaired and depend on untangling all of these sounds from each other to make their way onto the pitch, so the crowd goes silent during the game under the direction of some stewards.

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

“It all started with a simple idea [after] I had seen football played by visually impaired people abroad. And I was wondering if we could start in Uganda,” Muzafaru told CNN Sport.

Originally, Muzafaru used balls designed for goalball – a throwing game created specifically for visually impaired athletes – which disintegrated when hit, until June 2021, when the 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 traditionally not played by visually impaired people who stick to athletics and goalball.

“[Those sports] don’t take in a lot of people,” Muzafaru says. “Not everyone can do athletics easily…even goalball takes a lot.

“When you watch football you can train in a day and then you can start playing – and not everyone plays it, some just come for fun and that’s the most important thing [thing]. But the important thing was above all to widen the field of action of visually impaired people.

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

Visually impaired athletes fall into one of three categories: B1 for those who are totally blind, B2 for those who have some sight and can see shadows, and B3 for those who have less than 10% functional vision.

“Even if they are not totally blind, we include them in our activities, we blindfold them, and then we make them feel like they are playing,” says Muzafaru.

Under rules stipulated by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) – the sport’s governing body – only B1 players can participate in blind football, although the goalkeeper must be sighted or partially sighted and is in a restricted area.

Players wear opaque masks to ensure fairness.

The IBSA relaxed its requirements for women’s football in January 2020, allowing all three classifications to play together, and Blind Football Uganda is following this pattern in case B2 and B3 players are also later included in men’s international competitions.

For now, the organization is organizing a national competition rather than an international one in the form of a league which will coincide with World Cane Day on October 14 and 15.

“The Prices of Everything”

Sports for the disabled operates in a network of international structures. In addition to the IBSA, there are non-profit organisations, such as Para Football, which oversee all forms of Paralympic football, which in turn are governed by their own disability-specific organisations.

“Globally, international bodies have to accept that Africa is also part of the world because you can watch…the Cerebral Palsy World Cup…this year. There was no African country that was represented, but they called it the World Cup,” says Muzafaru.

CNN has contacted the tournament organizers – the International CP Football Federation (IFCPF) – for comment.

This disconnect between international structures and grassroots organizations is evident in Blind Football Uganda’s relationship with the IBSA.

Having created an organization with no outside technical knowledge, using only YouTube and the internet for guidance, Muzafaru hopes to share his newfound expertise with international organizations that promote the sport.

“Everything I did, nobody even from the international body… never even asked us: how do we do it, how can they come on board and help us,” he adds.

CNN has also reached out to IBSA for comment.

Despite the lack of substantial assistance and the financial constraints currently limiting their ambitions, Muzafaru and his team are finding ways around these challenges by doing online crowdfunding and improvising some of the necessary equipment.

“I sit down with my team, I say to them, ‘Can we develop something similar to what we saw on television?’ … So we sit down and develop something,” he explains.

“For example, when we look at the ‘[kick] planks”, we make them out of wood. Then we cover them with clothes, so they can’t be dangerous every time someone hits them.”

Blind Football Uganda organizes training as well as matches.

However, some financial challenges are more difficult to meet.

As is the case around the world, rising energy prices are impacting daily life in Uganda, as the price per liter of gasoline has risen from Shs 4,580 ($1.19) in December 2021 to Shs 6,350 ($1.65) in July 2022, according to The Observer, a Ugandan newspaper.

“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 get them to trainings… Transport a nobody now in a training or a match, it’s a bit difficult,” says Muzafaru.

Visually impaired people often live with their grandparents in more remote areas after finishing their studies because they cannot work, he explains, which further increases transport costs.

“These things create a social life”

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

“Most people who are totally blind, since becoming blind, go from home to school, from home to school,” says Muzafaru.

“They don’t have other activities because even their parents limit them. They think some things may be more risky for them because of the visual impairment they have. When you talk to their parents, when they. .. see them play, these things create a social life they’ve never interacted with.”

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 cited competition, health benefits and social interaction as their main motivations for playing blind football.

“It helps them not to be in a situation like depression, loneliness, [or] limited when they join or come to play football,” adds Muzafaru.

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

“People saw what we were doing, and people got curious and asked, ‘How can a blind man play?'” he says. “So these sites also help me engage people, an audience that comes to our events.”


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