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Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Monday, 31 May 2010 12:20 UK

GB hope to score with goalball

BT Paralympic World Cup
Venue: Manchester Date: 25-31 May Coverage: Live coverage on BBC Two and BBC Sport website (UK only) on Monday from 1400 BST, plus text reports


Goalball debuts at Paralympic World Cup

By Elizabeth Hudson
BBC Sport in Manchester

In the world of Paralympic sport, goalball probably ranks as one of the least well known.

But the sport's administrators in Great Britain hope that 2012 can herald a revival both internationally and domestically.

Where most Paralympic sports have an Olympic variation, there is no equivalent to goalball, which was devised back in 1946 to help in the rehabilitation of Second World War veterans who were left blind or visually impaired.

It made its international debut as a demonstration sport in the 1976 Summer Paralympics in Montreal and became a full part of the Paralympic movement from 1980.

GB's last Paralympic appearance was in 2000 in Sydney and since then, the sport, from a GB perspective, has been in the doldrums. But with a home Games to come and a increase in funding, there are green shoots of recovery.

The game is played by teams of three men or women - a centre and two wingers (plus three replacements) on a court the size of a volleyball court with goals the size of five-a-side football goals spanning the width of the pitch.

Players try to throw a ball, similar to a medicine ball, weighing a kilogram and a quarter with a bell contained in it, into their opponents' goal.

All players wear eye shades to make sure there is no advantage for those who are visually impaired over those who are blind and it means that everyone must judge the position and movement of the ball by the sound of the bell alone.

Unlike most other sports, in goalball silence is golden and spectators must be also quiet while the game is in progress.

I think the GB women can get a medal in 2012

GB performance director and head coach Tabo Huntley

The defenders are poised on their hands and knees - almost cat-like - and with the ball travelling at up to 60mph down the 18m long court, they have to dive quickly to try to stop their opponents' shots from scoring and then get to their feet quickly to try deliver a shot of their own on target.

Strength and power are important as is good communication with your team-mates and good hearing.

The GB women's team are the current European champions having lifted the crown last year but it was the men who got a chance to shine in a special demonstration event against Beijing bronze medallists Sweden at the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester.

The game served as a prelude to the World Championships which will be held in Sheffield in June and although GB lost 11-4 to the more powerful and experienced Swedes, it gave the spectators at the Manchester Regional Arena a chance to see the game in action.

Afterwards, some young fans even got the chance to take some penalties against the GB team.

Although I have covered two Paralympic Games for BBC Sport, I had never had a chance to see the sport at close range and the athleticism on show from both teams was a surprise.

With around 85 shots played in a 20-minute match, the action is fast and can be bruising as the players (who wear padding) dive to stop shots getting through.

GB performance director and head coach Tabo Huntley was delighted with the exposure the sport received and he hopes that it can help to build its profile.

"The sport is very much in its infancy in terms of structure and governance and there is a lot of work going on to have new talent coming in and give people a chance to play the game," he told BBC Sport.

GB goalball player Michael Sharkey delivers the ball
GB's Michael Sharkey delivers the ball against Sweden

"Because we haven't been involved in the last two Paralympic Games we haven't got a legacy from that and we have had to start afresh.

"Nowadays, children who are visually impaired are normally educated with sighted children so you may only have one VI kid in a school of maybe 500, so we need to try to reach them, which is a big challenge.

"The more we can raise awareness of the sport and then we can sell the game and make it more accessible.

"We need more players who are aged from 16 upwards who are relatively tall and strong and athletic and if we can get them we can get them into a team in a year. Finding them is the key."

This year's World Championships, which start in Sheffield on 17 June will be a key tournament for both the GB men and the women to assess where they are ahead of 2012.

"I think the women can medal in 2012," said Huntley. "We just need to have the players training regularly as a squad and expose them to international competition.

"If we can do that we will be in a good position because they are a young team and have got some good international results behind them which helps their confidence.

"The men's game is immense with 12 teams in Europe alone who could medal at the Worlds or the Paralympics so we want to have a credible performance next month."

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