“Voy! Voy!” players shout, a disorienting echo. “He’s coming towards us!” the goalie shouts. “Four meters! Shoot!” the navigator yells. Heavy panting, hurried running. Too late. The football rolls away, ball bearings tinkling.
Welcome to a blind football match in Brno, Czech Republic, where the fans are silent and the only sounds come from the pitch. “You try and listen for everything,” explains Vojta Polášek, a defender for the team, Avoy MU Brno. “Sometimes it’s pretty confusing.” Players must announce their presence with “Voy!” Sighted navigators along the sideline shout a player’s distance and angle from goal; sighted goalies alert defenders to attacks.
During matches everyone wears blindfolds to negate any visual edge but during training some players can use their ability to distinguish shadow and light to their advantage. Polášek, who fully lost his sight at age 12 after being hit in the face with a snowball, uses football knowledge he had prior to his accident. “With those who are blind from birth, we have to teach them everything,” says Jitka Graclíková, an Avoy navigator.
Since blind football was invented in Spain in 1986, visually impaired athletes have been playing around the world. The most skilled compete for their national teams in the Paralympics. Brazil has won every Paralympic title since the sport was introduced in 2004, the nation players’ legendary ball control an extra advantage in the dark.