India has the world’s largest population of the visually challenged (vc) but unfortunately lacks opportunities and facilities for them. Blind football in India moulded into its present form after the involvement of SRVC. The Society for Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged (SRVC) is a Non-governmental organistation which works for the rehabilitation of people with determination, formed by M.C. Roy and Sunil J. Mathew in 2002. The Ernakulam- based organization works for the betterment of the community in various ways. It includes training to develop their skills in the use of computers, reflexology as a vocation and skill development through sports. SRVC runs the only exclusive telesales center employing 20 vc employees in the state. It also promotes an all vc music orchestra called ‘heart to heart’, which has played more than 400 concerts in India and abroad. And the latest project involves skilling through blind football.
Blind football is a mix of 5 a side football and basketball, where the 4 totally blind players compulsorily need to wear eyeshades and the goalkeeper can be either fully sighted or partially blind. The pitch is of size 40 m x 20 m with kick boards along the long sides and is played with no throw-ins and no offside rule, which ensures non-stop action. Matches are played in two halves of 20 minutes each, with a 10-minute break in between. It is played in a small and enclosed pitch with a ball, which has bells inside.
In 2013, when SRVC was initiating a blind football team, they found out about the Indian Blind Sports Association, an organisation in Delhi which used to conduct blind football tournaments in an ad hoc manner.
Later in May 2013 , they formed a team from scratch and went to the finals of the national tournament, which they lost 1-0. But their journey had just begun there!
In the same year in August, the Indian Team went to Bangkok for an international tournament for the first time, where they finished fourth. They had played exposure games with teams like Malaysia on their road to the Five nation tournament held in Hong Kong in December the next year.Team India participated in their first Asian Championship in 2015.
They formed the Indian Blind Football Federation, supported by SRVC in 2016, which is affiliated with the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI), IBSA New Delhi, and the AIFF who offer technical support including the national team jerseys from the same kit sponsors. On their journey, they met the Indian senior team twice in 2013 and in 2019.
In 2013, when India played under Dutchman Wim Koevermans, the national team played a friendly match against Palestine, where they were escorted by the blind football team on to the ground.
Last year when the team was playing in Ahmedabad under gaffer Igor Stimac, the blind football team got a chance to interact with them. Later on, the blind footballers escorted the Kerala Blasters and Jamshedpur FC teams in their ISL game at Kochi. In all these instances, the players got a chance to interact and play football with each other blindfolded.
SRVC funds and promotes the activities of the Indian Blind Football Federation, and also supports the players with vocational skills training to help them with their livelihood and also to get recognition. At the moment, nearly 22 states of India are members of the Federation.
After the formation of IBFF, the Federation has successfully initiated activities, which includes the hosting of a tri – nation tournament comprising of teams like Malaysia and Laos in 2016 at Kochi, a friendly series was also held against Australia in 2018 which India won, and the junior team won two matches against the Japan’s developmental side in December 2019. The ‘blue dolphins’ also competed at the 2018 Blind Football World Grandprix held at Tokyo where they played Belgium and Japan, beating the hosts in one of their games.
The 2019 Asian championship, which was held at Thailand will be a historic one for team India as they finished at the fifth , which is the highest ever finishing spot in Asia ( India is ranked 28th in the world) but could not qualify for the 2020 Paralympics.
After the entry of IBFF into the circuit, 4 National blind football tournaments, regional and multiple camps have been conducted from its inception. They have been successfully conducting tournaments in the North East zone, South West zone and the East zone.
For increasing awareness and popularity of the game, they have organized demo games and awareness camps in different parts of the country. The unforseen COVID 19 outbreak has given the team time to attend webinars involving the experts of the game. The ’20/20 Guru Speaks’ is conducted on the 20th of every month where international coaches share their experience online.
The IBFF nationals for both men and women this year was supposed to be held in March at Guwahati. But the pandemic changed the plans and if the situation favours, it will be conducted next year as the condition gets better. The Federation is also planning to have an ISL type blind football national league over a 3 month period next year. The AFC is directly working with the IBFF and has set up 5 centres for the blind football across the country.
These determined players are beating all odds in a country, where blindness is looked at as a curse. These differently abled people have made it possible and IBFF has played a pivotal role in showcasing the skills on a global platform.
The team is aiming and preparing to be one of the top 4 teams in Asia, which will qualify them for the next World Cup in 2023 and plans are on for India to host the next Asian Championship in 2022. IBFF is also developing grassroots womens football which will be a huge boost, and is aiming to participate at the first Womens World Cup in Nov 2021 in Nigeria.
For more – www.BlindFootball.in