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 in 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.
The International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), founded in 1981 and responsible for a range of sports for blind and partially-sighted people, is the official governing body for the sport.
Goalball was originally devised in 1946 by the Austrian Hans Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle 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.
IBSA goalball rules require the field of play to be 18 metres (59 ft) long by 9 metres (30 ft) wide. Goals span the width of the pitch. The court is divided into six even sections, 3 by 9 metres (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 centimetres (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 kilometres 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:
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 organising 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: centre, 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 centre player is the player most responsible for defence. The player typically lines up at the centre orientation mark at the front of the orientation area (the 3.0 metres (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 centre 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 centre 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 metres (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 centre. 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 centre player to reserve their energy for defence, though the centre 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.
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.
A penalty throw may be awarded for:
In a penalty situation, a single player is required to defend the entire goal for one throw. The player chosen is determined by the penalty. For instance, a high ball or illegal defence penalty is defended by the player who committed the penalty. On the other hand, an illegal coaching penalty is defended by a player chosen by the coach of the throwing team (previously the last recorded thrower of that team).
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 centre line to ensure a quicker delivery. Eye patching was introduced under the eye shades to reduce cheating.
Goalball is a sport played at the Paralympic Games. During the Games, male and female teams are eligible to compete following various selection requirements. The number of participating teams has changed over the decades, but for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, this was reduced from ten to eight teams per division by the International Paralympic Committee. Competition is open to sighted persons to national level, but for international IBSA-sanctioned tournaments, athletes must have a visual impairment classification of B1, B2, or B3.
The IBSA World Goalball Championships has been held every four years, since 1978. A youth world championships was introduced, and the Fifth IBSA Goalball World Youth Championships were run in Budaors, Hungary in July 2017, the first outside of Colorado, United States of America.
Diving as part of defensive skills has been used as a training activity for (sighted) sports teams. Professional teams trying goalball have included the Boston Bruins ice hockey, Queensland Fire cricket, and Seattle Sounders FC soccer teams.
In 2006, the computer-animated series Bernard produced a three minute clip, featuring Eva the penguin introducing the titular polar bear to goalball.
In 2018, the sport was featured in the fourth episode of the anime Ani x Para: Anata no Hero wa Dare desu ka, where the characters of the anime KochiKame played a match of goalball.
Goalball was featured in episodes 10-12 of the 2020 Japanese anime, Breakers, where Paralympic sports are featured, originally planned to promote the 2020 Summer Paralympics.
Eva will try to teach Bernard a different sport but Bernard is not too excited about it and will do things his way instead of following Eva´s instructions.