goalball IMG_2396
Aug 09 2023

Goalball shows that visual impairments don’t hold us back

“Goalball is really more than a sport for us; it is a way to show that visual impairments do not hold us back’’, stressed Joost van de Kreeke after an intense training session. Joost is one of five players from the Dutch men’s team participating in the European Para Championships.

Goalball, a unique ball sport, is one of the ten events at the European Para Championships (EPC2023). The sport was designed, in 1946, specifically for people with visual impairments, by Hanz Lorenzen and Sepp Reindle, to support blind veterans. The sport has between 100 and 150 active athletes in the Netherlands, divided among a few clubs.

What is special about goalball is that it is not only about physical skills, but also about hearing and tactile perception. Players rely on the sound of bells in the ball, which changes direction as it moves across the field. “The sounds of the ringing ball and the intensity of the game – it’s just incredible how we can play by touch”, Joost says.

“It’s a challenge where all your senses work together: hearing, touch and even your intuition.” Wearing special knee and elbow pads to prevent injury, players work together to stop the ball and throw it back toward the opposing team.

The average age in goalball is higher than in other parasports. Joost himself became visually impaired later in life. “You’re first in an acceptance phase, where you don’t immediately think: tomorrow I’ll be visually impaired, the day after tomorrow I’ll pick up goalball. That’s obviously a trajectory people have to go through before they are at all open to trying it”, Joost explains.

“Thursday we play our first game, and believe me, we’re going full throttle. Our goal is to finish in the top three of the tournament”, says Krista van Alten, coach of the Dutch men’s team and booster for putting the sport on the map in the Netherlands.

“I think that has to be the difference in how we approach athletes”, Krista continued. “They’re just people like you and me. Who have a sport, a passion, a drive. Like every other athlete in the Netherlands. It’s just that they have a visual impairment. Which limits the sports they can choose. But they are no different.”

The men’s team, consisting of Joost van de Kreeke, Sem de Jong, Jeroen Meijer, Marcel van Beijnen and Frank van de Kreeke, are working or studying in addition to their athletic efforts. Krista: “But they are top athletes with the same drive, passion and commitment as Olympic athletes, regardless of their limitations.”

The first goalball game during EPC 2023 begins on Thursday, Aug. 10. The Netherlands will face France at noon in the first group match.

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