Goalball: A Unique Sport

Goalball features in the Paralympics as a sport played by visually-impaired athletes.

As there are different levels of visual impairment, the three players on each side all wear blindfolds, and the aim of the game is to put the ball in your opponents’ net – and stop them scoring in yours.

Rules: IBSA Goalball 

  • Both goals are nine metres wide
  • The court is a rectangle 18.0 m long by 9.0m wide (+/- 0.05m).
  • The ball is approximately the size of a basketball but twice as heavy as its weight.
  • Players must be blindfolded or wear eye shades.
  • Game must be played in total silence.
  • The team who win a coin toss will have the choice of throwing or receiving the ball first.
  • At the end of the first half, the teams change ends. The first throw of the second period will be by the team that defended the first throw at the start of the game.
  • Only players listed on the line-up sheet used for the actual game will be allowed to play.
  • A game consists of two 10-minute halves.

Throwing Technique

One of the essential skills of Goalball is knowing how to release the ball. To do this you need to:

  • Release the ball close to the floor so that it makes very little sound as it makes contact, thus making it difficult for the opposition to hear.
  • It must touch the floor before the overthrow 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.
  • Release the ball near the high ball line so that the opposition has as little time as possible to respond; the highball lines are parallel to the centre line on each side.
  • Aim to get the ball on court at the opponents’ end so the opposition has to defend every shot.
  • Bear in mind that the ball must be rolled or bowled along the floor instead of being thrown.


A goal is scored 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. The team with the highest score at the second half wins the game. If it is a tie, a ‘golden goal’ takes place to determine the winning team.


It is essential that all players stay within their 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 defence,’ and constitutes a penalty.

History of Goalball

Goalball was invented in 1946 by Austrian, Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle as an activity to rehabilitate blind war veterans.

It was then introduced as a sport in 1972 in Heidelberg, Germany. Four years later, it made its Paralympic Games debut at Toronto.  Australia were the first team to win the gold in this event.

Since then, Finland, Denmark and the USA have dominated the Paralympic scene. In terms of Paralympic history, Goalball started of as a men’s event in the Toronto ’76 Games. In 1984, it was also introduced as a women’s event in New York.

In Rio 2016, it was Turkey who won the gold medal against China in the women’s event.  In the men’s event, Lithuania took home the gold.

World Goalball Championships

The inaugural World Goalball Championships took place in 1978, which were held in Vocklamarck, Austria.  Germany were crowned the first world champions.  Brazil and Russia won the men’s and women’s championships in 2018, Malmo. USA have been the most successful side in the women’s events, while Brazil, Lithuania and Germany have won two championships each. Unfortunately there have been no gold medals for Team GB at either the World Championships or the Paralympics.

Playing Goalball

A year after London 2012, I was part of a group from Treloar College in Hampshire that went to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to try out the different sports, which were part of the Paralympic Games. Goalball in particular was the one which caught my eye.

Being blind or blindfolded when you are playing isn’t easy, but the good thing about the sport is that although you can’t see, you can use your other senses such as listening.

The ball itself has bells inside, which the teams listen to in order to figure out the direction in which it is travelling. At first, this is tricky because you can’t see anything, but your ears quickly become attuned to the bells, and players can work out where the ball is and where it is going.

Q&A: Team GB assistant men’s coach Alex Bunney:

What do you enjoy most about playing Goalball?

  • The competitive nature
  • How unique the sport is playing under eye shades
  • Being part of team for training and competitions

How would you describe Goalball in three words?

Fun, Intense, Exciting

How did you get into Goalball?

I had a taster session when I was at the Royal National College for the Blind. I then joined a team in my home city of Sheffield.

What do you think people get out of playing goalball?

People play for lots of different reasons but I think everyone enjoys being part of a like-minded visually-impaired community, Awareness and exposure are the key elements to growing the sport. As an athlete with Goalball UK (the national governing body) I want introduce it to as many people as possible.

Should Goalball be televised more frequently?

Unfortunately, Goalball isn’t shown live on TV in the UK as part of the Paralympic coverage. Even at London 2012 it was restricted to a few minutes of highlights each day. Moving towards theb 2020 and 2024 Games, we hope this will change.

Is the ethos behind Goalball that everybody should a chance to play sports regardless of their ability – or disability?

I think all sports should be inclusive to everyone, regardless of their ability or disability.  Goalball is specifically designed for people with a visual impairment but that doesn’t mean someone with a different or additional disability can’t play the game.

Is it a sport that can played by mixed teams of able and disabled players?

The great thing about Goalball is anyone of any sight can play the game on a level playing field as everyone wears black out eye shades in the game.

In our UK National League, we have teams made up of visually impaired and sighted players.  However, at the international level you have to be visually impaired – roughly less than 10% vision to play.

At major competitions we get classified by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA).

What would your advice be for someone with a vision impairment who wants to get into Goalball? 

Find a local club or taster day via the Goalball UK website (www.goalballuk.com) and give it a go! You’ll love it!

Feature image: courtesy of Alex Bunney and Goalball UK