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The Sport of Goalball: Information and Rules

Outline: Information regarding the Paralympic sport of Goalball - includes rules of gameplay and video clip demonstration.

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What is Goalball?

Goalball is a team sport designed for athletes with vision impairments. Players compete in teams of three. Goalball originated as a rehabilitative sport for veterans who lost their sight following World War II. It became an official Paralympic sport in 1976. Games consist of 12-minute halves, played indoors, usually on a volleyball court. Teams alternate throwing or rolling the ball from one end of the playing area to the other. Players remain in the area of their own goal in both defence and attack. 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.

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.

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

Australia vs Canada in a game of Goalball.
Australia vs Canada in a game of Goalball.

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:

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.

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.

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