Blind football : rules of the game

For every sport, there are rules. These rules make the game possible by guaranteeing equal opportunities for all participants so that they can give the best of themselves in optimal conditions of practice. The keeper of these principles is the referee, who is present to enforce the rules of the game.

In blind football, officiating is organized as follows :

  • a first or main referee : he/she directs the match and ensures the application of the rules of the game. He/she draws up the report of the match and communicates it to the official authorities. His role is also to time the game.
    He is the one who indicates to the score table verbally or by clear gestures each fact of the game so that everything is recorded.
    He also checks the players’ equipment : eyechades and eye patches.
    He is the only one who can stop the game if he it’s necessary (serious injury of a player for example) or to impose sanctions on the athletes or officials.
  • a second or assistant referee : he covers the half of the field opposite the first referee. He helps him to enforce the rules of the game. He makes sure that the time-outs are respected : 1 minute per team and per half.

In case of disagreement between the two referees, the opinion of the main referee will prevail.

  • a scoring table : it has the role of counting the timeouts, the number of fouls of each team as well as the personal fouls of each player.

Fouls in common with classic soccer

As in traditional soccer, fouls result in free kicks. They can be direct (the player shoots directly at the goal without passing the ball to a teammate) or indirect (with a pass). Here are some examples of fouls :

  • charging or pushing an opponent
  • controling the ball with the arm or hand
  • holding an opponent to prevent him from moving towards or with the ball holder
  • or try to hit an opponent

There are others, this is not an exhaustive list. In the event of a major foul, a player may be given a yellow or even a red card.

The free kick is taken from the place where the foul was committed. Unless the foul occurred in the penalty area, in which case a penalty kick will be taken.
The players of the opposing team must be at least 5 meters from the spot where the free kick is to be taken. The player taking the free kick has 4 seconds to shoot after the referee blows his whistle. The opposing team may set up a wall if they wish.
In most cases, two people take a free kick : the kicker puts the ball between his feet and a player stands behind the kicker to stabilize the ball with his foot.

A free kick with wall in category B1

Fouls specific to B1 category

Category B1 has specific rules related to the adaptations necessary for blind players to play soccer. Two teams of five players play against each other (four field players and one sighted goalkeeper). The match lasts two playing periods of 25 minutes each in continuous time in the French championship. At the international level, the game is played in two periods of 20 minutes but in real time : the clock is stopped at each interruption of the game.

Regarding field players :

  • The « no-voy » rule : the player has to distinctly signal himself with a “voy” when looking for the ball, attacking it or disputing it with another player

As a reminder, “Voy” means “I am going” or in Spanish. Each player who is not carrying the ball has the obligation to signal by saying the word “voy” clearly and distinctly. It is thanks to this sound information that the ball carrier knows the position of his opponents.

  • the sandwich rule : when two players block an opponent along a side barrier. Only duels for the ball are allowed ; other players must stay away and not interfere.
The third player stays away and does not take part in the duel

Regarding the goalkeeper, a foul is whistled in the following cases :

  • if, after giving the ball, the goalkeeper receives it back without any opponent having touched it or without crossing the halfway line
  • if the ball does not rebound in his own half of the field during a clearance
  • if the goalkeeper waits more than 4 seconds before playing the ball after controlling it
  • if the goalkeeper intervenes in the game outside his zone (in B1 : the “goalkeeper’s zone” is different from the “penalty area”) : this foul is penalized by a penalty
The player takes a penalty kick, 6 meters away, alone in front of the goalkeeper. The guide gives him sound information on the position of the goalposts by knocking on them and then placing himself in the middle of the goal to give him the central axis

There are also faults related to the guidance of the players :

  • the offensive guide can only guide in the offensive zone of his team
  • the goalkeeper can only guide his players in the defensive zone of his team
  • the coach can only give information to players in the middle zone

Regarding the accumulation of faults :

  • Any player who commits 5 personal fouls during a game will be excluded from the field. He can be replaced but will not be allowed to enter again.
  • From the 6th accumulated foul in a half for the same team, we will play a double penalty.

The double-penalty is a direct shot 8 meters from the goal, in the axis, without a wall. All other players must be at least 5 meters behind the ball.
This double-penalty is played at each foul after the 6th accumulated foul by a team.
At the end of the half-time, the counter of the faults of a team is put back to 0. But not the personal fouls of a player

Characteristics of the B2/B3 category

Two teams of five players play against each other (four field players and a goalkeeper). The match lasts two times 20 minutes in effective time. This means that a stoppage of play (such as a foul or goal clearance) will stop the clock.

In this category, the rules of a “futsal” match are generally applied with some adaptations :

  • The light must be of equal intensity throughout the field and must not interfere with the progress of the game (no reflection)
  • The goalkeeper must not leave the penalty area and interfere with play outside the penalty area
  • On a goalkeeper clearance (as in B1), the ball must rebound before the halfway line
  • B3 players must be clearly identified with a headband to differentiate them from B2 players
  • A team may not have more than two B3 players
  • If a B2 player is injured and cannot be replaced by another B2 player, the team must continue with only three players

Documentary resources

This article is a summary of the main rules necessary to adapt soccer for blind and visually impaired people. All the rules are available on the IBSA website (International Blind Sports Federation) :

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The blind football match

A blind football match is similar to a “futsal” or “5-a-side soccer” match, but with a few special features. The two categories of blind football will be distinguished here because they do not have the same specificities.

In category B1 (blind players)

Two teams of five players will compete : four blind field players and one sighted goalkeeper. In addition to his traditional role, the goalkeeper will have to guide his defenders. In addition, there is a coach and for this category only, an offensive guide whose role is to guide the attackers. The field players have a eyeshade on their eyes so that each sportsman plays in the same conditions : equality between a completely blind player and the one who would have a visual rest.

The field

It has a rectangular shape with a width of 20 meters and a length of 40 meters. Barriers delimit it laterally along the touch line until about 1 meter after each goal line. The height of the barriers is between 1 meter and 1.20 meters. The field is ideally uncovered to provide better acoustics.

The players are on a field delimited on each side by lateral barriers

A blind football field is divided into three zones, delimited by a dotted line, parallel to the goal line, 12 meters from it, on each side:

Diagram of a blind football field with its different zones (click on the image to enlarge)
  • a defensive zone : between the team’s goal and the 12-meter line. It is in this zone and only in this zone that the sighted goalkeeper can guide his defenders
  • a middle zone or technical zone : between the other two zones, including the center line. It is here that the team coach can give instructions to his players. And only in this zone.
  • an attack zone : between the goal and the opponents’ 12-meter line. It is only from the limit of this zone that the guide, located behind the opponent’s cage, can direct his team’s attackers towards the goal.

Other areas are present on a blind football field :

  • the goalkeeper’s zone : the goalkeeper may not leave it and may not have contact with the ball outside it. It starts laterally 1 meter from each post and extends 2 meters forward.
  • the penalty area : it corresponds to an arc of a circle that passes through the penalty mark 6 meters from the goal line and whose center is located between the two posts. A penalty is awarded in case of a foul in this area.

Different points are materialized on the ground :

  • the center circle : where the match starts
  • the penalty point : where penalties are taken in the cases provided for in the regulations
  • the double penalty point : located 8 meters from the goal line. A shot is taken from this point when 6 fouls have been committed by a team during the same half.

The playing surface must be smooth, without roughness, rather in cement or in natural or synthetic grass.

Blind football goals are similar to field hockey goals, measuring 3.66 meters from post to post and 2.14 meters from ground to crossbar.

Actors of the game

In B1 category, throughout the game, blind players receive audio guidance from players on and off the field.

  • the coach : can give any kind of information to the players of his team as long as they are in the central zone of the field : between the defensive zone and the attacking zone. For example: position of the ball, ball won or lost by the team, position of the opponents, etc…
  • the goalkeeper : he mainly gives sound information to his defenders to organize the best coverage of his goal. He can also guide any player in the defensive zone.

  • the offensive guide : he is located behind the opponent’s goal. His role is to orientate the attackers by telling them by voice the location of the goal where they will have to shoot during the progression of a player with the ball. We generally hear data about distance, position in relation to the goal (left, right, axis) or the presence or absence of defenders. He can only guide in the attacking zone of his team.

The ball

Bells are placed inside so that the ball makes noise when it rolls on the ground. Thanks to the sounds made by the ball, the players know its location as soon as it is in play. By extension, the defenders also know the position of the ball carrier on the field.

A blind football ball

Listen to the sound produced by a moving ball :

The movement of the players on the field : the “voy” rule

This is the essential rule for the smooth running of a blind football match. “Voy” means “I’m going” in Spanish. Each player who is not in possession of the ball must signal his location by saying the word “voy” clearly and distinctly. It is thanks to all this sound informations that the ball carrier knows the position of his opponents.

The players of the same team also communicate with each other to organize their game phases. Teammates can therefore define codes between themselves by saying key words : “yes”, “pass”, “opposite”. An attacker can thus distinguish between a teammate who is unmarked and who calls for a pass, and a defender who says “voy”.

When a player has the ball, he can shout “GOT IT” to inform his teammates who recognize his voice.
The coach, guide or goalkeeper can also, in their respective guiding area, inform the players of who has the ball by yelling “LOST !” or “WON !” depending on whether their team regains control of the ball or not.

A B1 blind football match is therefore a large collection of sound information that a player must be able to sort, analyze and exploit, thus requiring great concentration. This is the reason why the public attending a match is usually asked to remain silent.

Duration of a match

In the French championship, a match is played in two periods of 25 minutes in continuous time. This means that a stoppage of play (such as a foul or goal clearance) does not stop the clock.
On the other hand, at the international level, two 20-minute periods are played in real time : the clock is stopped at each break in play. A match can therefore easily last up to 1h15.

In category B2/B3 (visually impaired players)

A game will be played between two teams of five players : four field players and a goalkeeper. Unlike the B1 category, the goalkeeper can be sighted or visually impaired, although most of the time the goalkeeper is still sighted.

There are two subcategories of players :

  • a player classified as B2 has a maximum visual acuity of 1/20 and a maximum visual field of 5
  • a B3 player has a visual acuity between 1/20 and 1/10 and a visual field between 5° and 20°

Each team must have at least two B2 players in a team of four field players. In the French championship, a specific band with a color per team, placed on the front, will allow to differentiate the participants of different sub-categories.

This rule will be applied starting with the 2020/2021 national season and will :

  • visually help a player to find his way around (in addition to the distinctive jerseys of different colors per team)
  • allow a spectator to identify the differences of classification between the players and thus better understand the functioning of the discipline

The field

The match takes place on a rectangular field 20 meters wide and 40 meters long. As in category B1, it is delimited on each side by side barriers.

A blind football field delimited by side barriers

In B2/B3 category, there are no specific zones on the field as in B1. There is only the penalty area that the goalkeeper is not allowed to leave and/or interfere with the game outside of it. The goalkeeper’s area present in B1 does not exist.

Traditionally, and for practical reasons of organization, the B2/B3 competitions take place on “futsal” fields, therefore more indoors.

The ball

In the French championship, it is almost identical to that of category B1 ; that is to say that it contains bells allowing it to make noise when it is in movement. The sound device inside is simply lighter than in category B1. On the other hand, at the international level, B2/B3 competitions use “futsal” type balls with the only difference being that the color of the ball is clearly different from the ground. The players will thus perceive the ball visually better. France has chosen to use balls with bells for its national B2/B3 championship in order to allow access to severely visually impaired players.

Ballon blanc B2/B3 en championnat de France

Duration of a match

A game is played in two periods of 20 minutes in effective time. This means that a stoppage of play (such as a foul or a goal) will stop the clock.

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Origins of blind football

The blind football (“cécifoot” in french) is a Paralympic discipline, it is the adaptation of soccer for visually impaired people. In France, the French Federation of disabled sports is responsible for the management of licensed athletes and competitions.

Players compete in teams of five (four visually impaired players and one goalkeeper) and play in two distinct categories according to their level of visual impairment:

  • B1 category (Blind 1) : for blind or visually impaired players. All players in this category will be placed on an equal situation by playing with an opaque eyeshade and blackout eye patches. The goalkeeper is sighted.
  • B2/B3 category (Blind 2 / Blind 3) : for visually impaired players only. The goalkeeper can be sighted or visually impaired. As for the players, their visual acuity of the best eye, after correction, must not exceed 1/10 (tolerance at the national level up to 2/10) or exceed 20° of visual field. For more details, a player classified B2 has a maximum visual acuity of 1/20 and a maximum visual field of 5°. A B3 player has a visual acuity between 1/20 and 1/10 and a visual field between 5° and 20°.
France vs China, London 2012 Paralympic Games
Picture credit : Flickr Handisport, G Picout, France Paralympique, All rights reserved

At the national and international level, this classification is determined by a accredited ophthalmologist after an official examination which may be definitive or to be re-evaluated according to medical findings.
NB : only category B1 is represented at the Paralympic Games, every four years.

Origins of blind football

It seems difficult to have an exact date when this adaptation of football for the visually impaired first appeared. According to the International Paralympic Committee, it seems that as early as the 1920s in Spain, young players were already playing soccer in the playgrounds of special schools for blind children.

The real formalization of the sport came in Brazil in the 1960s. The South American country introduced the basic rules and the “five against five” format, which is still used today. However, it was not until 1974 that the first national championship was organized in Brazil. Little by little, other countries followed and developed the discipline, notably Spain.

The arrival of blind football in France

It was in 1987 that blind football arrived in France under the impulse of Mr. Julien Zéléla. He created the “Association Sportive Cécifoot Saint-Mandé” (“Blind Football Sport Association of Saint-Mandé“) which marked the beginning of the structuring of this sport in our country. This historic club, located not far from Paris in the Val de Marne, is still active and has one of the most complete records of success at the national level.

The very first French blind football Championship officially started at the end of 1998 while the first French Cup took place in 2000. These events are now held every year.

The international recognition

In 1996, the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA) officially recognized blind football as a sport. The main purpose of this step was to federate all the different practices of this sport, which can vary from one country to another, by instituting common rules, valid throughout the world.
This was a first step towards a mandatory harmonization for future international meetings.

The following year, in 1997, IBSA organized the first European Blind Football Championship in Barcelona, Spain, and the first American Championship in Asuncion, Paraguay.

The events accelerated again with the first ever world championship of blind football in Brazil in 1998. The host country won the inaugural event. For many years, Brazil dominated the field, winning most of the titles of “world champion”, sometimes losing out to its main rival, Argentina.

Athens 2004, the year of the Paralympic consecration

Without a doubt, the year 2004 will remain the most important event in the history of blind football with its recognition as a “Paralympic discipline”. Thirty years after the first championships were held in South America, players could finally claim the ultimate title for any sportsman, that of the greatest of competitions : the gold medal of Paralympic champion.
Once again, Brazil won the first-ever Paralympic gold medal in blind football after an epic match against Argentina : 3-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in regular time.

The popularity of blind football continued to grow with the creation of new teams around the world.

Official logo of the International Paralympic Committee

From now on, the world championships of the discipline are held every four years, alternating with the Paralympic Games. The continental championships allow the national teams to obtain their qualification for these reference competitions.

2012 London Paralympic Games : France’s year

This was an unmissable year for the French blind football team. During the Paralympic Games in London, “les Bleus” managed to reach the final of the tournament. Unfortunately, they lost 2-0 against Brazil but returned to France with a Paralympic silver medal. This one remains the best result of the French team in an international competition. This event will have a “springboard” effect for the discipline which will benefit from an exposure and especially from means without precedent in our country.

France wins the silver medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games
Picture credits : Flickr Handisport, G Picout, France Paralympique, all rights reserved

Blind football nowadays in France and in the world

In France, the discipline is managed from the French Federation of sports for disabled by a Sports Director in charge of its development and administration. Each year, a French championship is organized in each category (B1 and B2/B3) as well as a French cup. The country also has a B1 national team with a coach whose mission, as in classical soccer, is to recruit the best national players and develop them towards performance. Since 2019, a French U23 team has even been created in order to ensure the succession of the senior collective and to prepare young players for the demands of the top level.

Worldwide, blind football is now played on most continents. Even if the main activity remains in Europe and South America, the development is underway in many countries. In different parts of the world, international tournaments are regularly held to qualify for the world’s biggest competitions. Just as there is a European championship, there is also an African, Asian and Central American championship. Fearsome teams are emerging on the international scene, such as China, Iran, Japan, Morocco, Mali and even Thailand. North America is still the exception with a late development linked to a more restricted practice of classic soccer in this region of the world.

Nevertheless, blind football continues to develop in France and around the world. The discipline seems to have a bright future as its recognition and media exposure grows.

The next step for blind football in France?

The logo of the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games

The history of blnd football has shown us that the most significant leaps forward took place in parallel with major events such as the Paralympics. It seems rather likely that the next step in the development of this sport in France will take place in Paris in 2024, offering the field unprecedented media exposure.

Artist’s view of the future field where the blind football competitions will take place during the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower

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