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The Sport of Goalball: Information and Rules

  • Published: 2015-11-06 (Revised/Updated 2018-01-10) : Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact:
  • Synopsis: Information regarding the Paralympic sport of Goalball - includes rules of gameplay and video clip demonstration.

Goalball is defined as a team sport designed specifically for blind athletes. Goalball evolved into a competitive game during the 1950's and 1960's, and was eventually nominated as a demonstration sport at the 1976 Toronto Paralympics. Today, the sport of Goalball is played at the Paralympic games, where 12 Men's teams and 10 Women's teams are eligible to compete against each other.

Main Document

"Teams are comprised of six players with no more than three from each side on the pitch at one time, in matches of two ten minute halves."

Goalball was introduced as a medal event at the 1976 Paralympic Games in Toronto after its success as a demonstration event at the Heidelberg 1972 Paralympic games. Yet the sport itself dates back to the year 1946 when it was created by Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and German Sett Reindle as a way to rehabilitate WWII veterans who had lost their vision. The sport is now played in more than 100 countries.

Women and Men's goalball teams have a roster of six at most international events, but compete in teams of three. Unlike other team events that involve a ball such as wheelchair basketball, goalball is played only by visually impaired athletes. Every player must wear eye masks to equalize visual impairment among the athletes.

Due to the fact that the sport is for people who experience visual impairment, the ball makes noise when it is in motion so the players may locate it audibly. For this reason, silence at events is crucial. The game is played on a court with tactile markings so the players can determine their location on the court and which direction they are facing. Players take turns throwing the ball at each other's goal.

Following the U.S. Women's team's gold win at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, Team USA desired to take the top spot again at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Team USA; however, finished last in the goalball competition. The U.S. Men's team failed to qualify. Both the U.S. Women's and Men's team will compete at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games based upon their performance at the 2014 world championships in Finland. While the men finished in third place, the women avenged their losses in London by capturing the world title. The U.S. national goalball teams and the everyday operations of the high performance program are run by the United States Association of Blind Athletes.

The Goalball Court

A goalball court is a standard gymnasium volleyball court measuring 9m wide by 18m long. There are two team areas at either end of the court which measure 3m wide by 9m long. Inside the team areas there are player orientation marks consisting of two 1.5m wing lines and one 0.50m center line.

In preparing the court, you will want to use standard duct tape. It is general practice to make the court two layers thick, one layer on top of the other, giving the court a superior tactile feel permitting players to easily find their positions. It may be desirable to use a non-stick tape underneath the duct tape to prevent it from ripping up any varnish or painted lines on the floor.

The taped lines are the entire team areas with the players orientation lines. The over throw lines, center line and the outside lines of the neutral area only have to be taped if they do not exist on the volleyball court. The lines only have to be one layer thick because they are used mainly by the referees.

Goalball Rules

Teams are comprised of six players with no more than three from each side on the pitch at one time, in matches of two ten minute halves. In the London 2012 games, the times increased to twelve minutes per half. Outside of the group stages, drawn matches are resolved by overtime; two halves of three minutes, or until a goal is scored and, if necessary, extra throws. In contrast to the applause and cheers that ring out around the majority of Paralympic Games' venues, the goalball arena is silent during play, allowing the players to hear the ball which has a bell inside of it. Additional rules include the following.

Time Limits: After receiving control of the ball, a team has only ten seconds to throw the ball back at the opposing team; if not, it is considered a team penalty.

Game Time: A regular goalball game is twenty minutes consisting of two ten minute halves. There is a three minute half time in order for the teams to switch ends of the court.

First Ball: A coin toss determines which team will receive the first ball, with the opposing team receiving the ball following half time. Each team is allow three, forty-five second, time outs in a game.

Defending: Players must stay within the team area while defending. When stopping the ball, some part of the player's body must be touching the team area or it is called, 'illegal defense,' and constitutes a penalty.

Play: The audible command, 'Play,' must be called by the referee to begin or restart the game. After any official stoppage of the game, 'Play,' must be called to restart it. For example; the start of the game, after an out of bounds ball, a blocked out ball, a goal, or a penalty situation.

Throwing: The ball must be rolled on the floor. When throwing the ball, it must touch the floor before the over throw line or it is considered to be a, 'high ball.' A high ball would constitute a penalty and nullifies any goal scored from that particular throw. Bear in mind that the ball must be rolled or bowled along the floor instead of being thrown.

Eyeshades: In order to maintain an equal advantage, every team member must wear eyeshades at all times during the game. Once the game has begun, a player may only adjust their eyeshades by raising their arm up into the air and calling, 'eyeshades.' Only then, after a referee tells the player to turn around, may the player adjust their eyeshades.

Loss of Possession of the Ball

Three ways to lose possession of the ball during a game of goalball exist. What this means is a team will lose the ball and the opposing team gets to throw. The ways to lose possession include the following.

Premature Throw: A premature throw is when a player throws the ball before they are allowed to or before, 'Play,' has been called.

Ball Over: A ball over takes place when a defending player stops the ball and it bounces off of that player and rolls over the center line.

Pass Out: If a player passes the ball to another team mate and the pass is missed with the ball going over the outside lines it is called a, 'Pass Out.'

A goal counts when the ball passes completely over the 9m back line of either team's area. It is a goal no matter how it crosses the line, if it was thrown by the opposing team and/or thrown or carried over by a team member. Goalball is one of only a few sports in the Paralympic Games where there is only one classification. Every player must have a visual impairment, but to ensure there is a level playing field, all athletes have to wear black-out masks so no player may see.

Video Clip: What is goalball? Video Demonstration

About This Video: Short video clip of Goalball, a team sport designed for athletes with vision impairment. Participants compete in teams of three, and try to throw a ball that has bells embedded in it into the opponents goal.

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