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Student Article about Goalball

Photograph of members of Goalball team

Goalball Suffers Paralympic Funding Cut

This article was written by Lissa Woodhouse who is a Sport, Culture and Society student at Sheffield Hallam University. We worked with Venture Matrix and Sheffield Hallam University on this project. We hope you find it interesting:

 

Almost four years have passed since the opening ceremony for what proved to be the biggest and most successful Paralympics ever. A key objective for these games in London was legacy. But have attitudes to disability sports really changed that much? The recent harsh cuts to Paralympic funding at the hands of governing body, UK Sport, would suggest not.

Goalball, a sport for primarily blind and visually impaired people, is among three Paralympic sports which have fallen victim to the cuts. UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholls said it would be "high risk" to continue funding sports with little chance of winning a medal by 2020. The emphasis on victory and lack of acknowledgement of the effect of these sports on disabled people’s lives is clear. If the value of certain sports was considered, goalball would and should receive a funding increase, not decrease.

Spending time recently with both elite and intermediate goalball players, I had the privilege of observing true passion. At no point was this passion clearer than when speaking to the players themselves. Listening to their stories. Their triumphs. Their knockbacks. Through which their smiles did not falter.

Anthony, who has been blind since birth, commented regarding goalball, ‘It gives me a sense of pride, I’ve won medals and I’m even top goal scorer!’ The sense of achievement that these individuals gain from sport is immense. The decision to slash funding for the sport in the Paralympics is damaging. The 2012 Paralympics is where goalball took off. People started talking about it. Interest grew. Volunteers increased. Participation sky rocketed.

The importance of exercise to visually impaired people is paramount, and it all starts at grass roots level. Charities work increasingly hard to support disability sports at this level, no more so than Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind (SRSB).

In a recent visit to SRSB’s headquarters, I was able to see just how much work this charity does in helping blind and visually impaired people. From physical and emotional support, to providing specialist equipment. Having been around for 155 years, the amount of help this charity have provided is astonishing.

I was especially moved by one story about a man who went blind overnight. Just like that. No warning. No preparation. This sort of thing happens so quickly and so unexpectedly. So much so that the individual can feel like they’ve lost everything. This is where SRSB comes in. A massive blow like this can take years to come to terms with for some people, but the work SRSB does, helps people to learn to be independent again. To live their life again.

Fundraising is crucial to the survival of a charity like SRSB. With zero financial support from the government, SRSB relies on the generosity and good will of the public.

The masses of people that represented Goalball UK in a coast to coast tandem bike ride to raise funds for goalball is evidence of this spirit.

A task like this is not one for the faint hearted. That didn’t stop people from turning up to the starting line, smiles on faces, ready to cycle for something that matters so much to them. 

Visually impaired people are already at a disadvantage financially as their additional needs are not always met by the government. Especially with the recent disability welfare cuts. Goalball isn’t a cheap sport to fund, so fundraising is a necessity. Transport costs, equipment costs, league entry costs. It all adds up. 

This fundraising is a small price to pay though, when you consider the hugely positive impact goalball has on people’s lives. Visually impaired elite goalball GB athlete Phil Green, spoke of the impact that goalball had on his life. A heavily overweight smoker and drinker, with dramatically low self-esteem, Phil needed a change. The first time he threw the ball, he was hooked. With his increased confidence, he was inspired to get in shape, quit the smoking and the drinking and focus on his dream of playing goalball at the highest level. Phil stated ‘I don’t know where I would be in life if it wasn’t for goalball’. 

Stories like Phil’s are the reason that UK Sport should provide goalball with the funding that the sport deserves. I only had to listen to the people of Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind for a matter of minutes to understand the significance of goalball to them. 

One game of goalball a week is enough to give visually impaired people a sense of normality in a world that seems so challenging in many other ways. It may be a small thing, but Kyle Crossland from SRSB commented ‘It’s about conquering the small things, when there are so many barriers to overcome for blind people.’ 

Disability sports like goalball open doors. Doors to new ventures. Anthony, who is an intermediate goalball player expressed this, ‘I never thought running or other sports were an option for me. When I got into goalball that all changed. Everything else became more accessible with my growing confidence.’ 

Unlike many Paralympic sports, goalball is a team sport. This provides the athletes with the social side, something which they value highly in a world where ‘communication isn’t always easy’- Kyle, a keen goalball player.   

The Paralympics is a huge stage to display goalball at a professional level. Seeing the sport in the media ignites interest, doing wonders for the sport. ‘Social media is becoming more and more useful for us. It has a huge effect on people turning up at goalball, reaching out to a range of different individuals. It’s all about inclusivity. Feeling a part of something.’ said Kyle. 

With cuts being made to the funding of goalball, media interest will plateau. This is not a big issue for those who make the cuts, but for the people at the heart of it all, behind the scenes, it matters. It’s a knock on effect. 

Goalball at the Paralympics leads to an increase in players, volunteers and supporters. Without this funding and coverage, goalball will remain a low key sport, which leads to less participation and less sense of pride for the visually impaired players. 

A quote from the UK Sport website states ‘We strive to invest the right resources, in the right athletes, for the right reasons.’ A sport like goalball may not be ‘right’ to their standards. It may not be a multi-medal winning sport, but given the chance, it has the potential to be something very special.

 

 

 

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