Played competitively in more than 100 countries, Goalball is one of the most popular Paralympic sports.
Since it was developed as a rehabilitation activity for injured soldiers returning from World War II, Goalball has spread around the world. Played by visually impaired athletes using a ball with bells inside, it is among the most exciting team sports on the Paralympic programme.
Thursday 30 August – Friday 7 September
Number of competitors
132: 72 men, 60 women
12 men’s teams, 10 women’s teams – six athletes per team (three players on court at any time)
Each country is limited to one men’s and one women’s team.
All athletes wear eyeshades to ensure that athletes with varying degrees of visual impairment can compete together.
Number of medal events
Field of play
The Goalball court is 18m long and 9m wide. The court is divided in half by a centre line, and each half is further divided into three sections by lines at 3m intervals. Each of the court lines are marked by tape and are slightly raised to allow players to orientate themselves. Goals extend across the full width of the court at either end and are 1.3m high.
History of Goalball at the Paralympic Games
Introduced to the Games as a demonstration event at the Toronto 1976 Games, Goalball was added to the Paralympic programme as a full medal sport four years later in Arnhem. The women’s tournament first featured at the New York and Stoke Mandeville 1984 Games.
The aim is to score by rolling the ball at speed into the opposition’s goal, while the opposition attempts to block the ball with their bodies. Spectators must be quiet during play so that players can hear the ball (and each other), but they are free to cheer when a goal is scored. The team that scores the most goals is the winner.
The ball is not passed up the court, and each throw is effectively a shot on goal. Each team has 10 seconds to take a throw, and any team member may take it, but not more than twice before another team member must have a turn. This includes half-time so that a player who has taken two consecutive throws at the end of the first half cannot throw at the beginning of the second half until another team member has made a shot.
Matches last for two periods of 12 minutes each, but the clock stops every time the referee blows for an infringement (see below) and starts again when play restarts. Each team is also permitted three 45-second time-outs or breaks.
In the event of a tie in the knockout stages, two further periods of three minutes each will be held, decided by a golden goal. This is followed by extra throws if necessary – similar to how a penalty shoot-out works in Football.
For a complete set of rules, please refer to the website of the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), governing body for the sport.
Both the men’s and women’s tournaments begin with a round-robin group stage. The 12 men’s teams are divided into two groups of six teams, while the 10 women’s teams are divided into two groups of five. The top four teams in each group qualify for the quarter-finals, from which point the tournaments are played in a knockout format.
Each game has two referees, four goal judges, one scorer, one timer and one back-up time, one shot recorder and two ten-second timers.
Keys to success
Goalball is a fast game of immense skill, judgment and concentration. Players need to have excellent spatial awareness and lightning reactions to block balls that can be travelling at up to 60 miles per hour.
Breaking the rules
Referees will be on the lookout for infringements, which can fall into three categories.
- Infractions are, for instance, when the ball leaves the court, or when a player throws before the command to start has been given.
- Personal penalties are awarded against players, for instance, when a player makes three consecutive throws; when a ball is thrown too high without touching the court between specific lines; or a player is seen to touch his/her eyeshades.
Ball: Made of rubber, the ball used in Goalball is 24-25cm in diameter, and has eight holes that allow players to hear the bells within the ball when it moves.
Court: The playing area, measuring 18m x 9m. All the lines on the court are tactile.
If you want to find out about Goalball in your country, including clubs, facilities and coaching schemes, check the website of your National Governing Body. To find out how you can get involved in Goalball in the UK, go to thegamesandbeyond.com
For more information on the Goalball competition at London 2012 and the rules of the sport, go to the website of the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), governing body for the sport.