Blind football – this football practiced by the visually impaired – was introduced in Juba in 2020 by the NGO Light for the World, which specializes in the fight for the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities. Despite the difficulties, among which negative stereotypes and the lack of resources, the South Sudan Blind Football Federation was officially registered in October 2022.
Jostling for the ball fitted with internal bells, the players evolve blindfolded, to the sound of the indications of their teammates. The atmosphere was electric during this Premier League final during which Kator Blind Football Club and the Juba Boys faced off, the latter winning the game.
Simon Madol Akol, from the NGO Light for the World, is one of the founders of the sport in the country and the Head Coach of the South Sudanese blind football players: “At first it was really hard but it was the passion that kept us going and made it possible to reach this stage. We started with only two players, with me as a coach. At the time, no one knew about this sport. We started training in the courtyard in front of our office, I threw the ball to the players so that they would dribble and send it back to me.”
Simon Madol Akol, Head Coach of the Blind Football Federation, ahead of the final on 27 June 2023, at Dr Biar Sports Complex.
By word of mouth, new players joined them: “Every day in training, two new players arrived. And the next time, two more players. The team grew like that until we reached the number of 15 players and now we have four teams. And we were able to organize a championship, it’s the very first time! »
“I play like Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo”
A blind football team is made up of four visually impaired players and a sighted goalkeeper who directs the defenders. A guide placed behind the opposing goal cage directs his team by hitting the post with a stone. The players locate the ball thanks to the sound of the bells fitted inside, also thanks to the indications of their coach on the side of the pitch: “They tell them where the ball is, if they are far from it: turn right! To the left ! Run ! There is a player in front of you! Step back! It’s by shouting like that that it happens ” explains Simon Madol Akol.
During the blind football championship final at Dr Biar Sports Complex in Juba on June 27, 2023
Jimmy Just Augustin, 24, is the captain of Kator Blind Football Club. He rediscovered the pleasure of football that he thought he had lost forever: “When I lost my sight following an eye infection, I never thought I would play football again one day. But now I play like Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, like anyone else… As if we weren’t visually impaired, we manage to control the ball, shoot and score goals. With all the players, we have become friends, we are like brothers”.
Representing South Sudan internationally
A welcome sporting and social life in a society where negative stereotypes remain, despite South Sudan’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in February.
Augustino Wudu Hilario, Director of the Association of Persons with Disabilities in South Sudan: “Negative attitudes, discrimination against persons with disabilities are linked to our cultural norms and the wrong perceptions according to which these are people who cannot contribute anything to society”.
When he lost his sight, Charles Pasquale, who heads the Blind Football Federation, thought his life was “doomed”. He overcame his fears to try and practice blind football: “I was very afraid of hurting myself. Fears and doubts were erased through practice in the field. Now I enjoy playing football. The skills and talent I have, I put them to use. Not only for me, but also for my country. Because one day, we are going to play international games. And we are going to represent our country. This is our contribution to our country.”
Victory of the Juba Boys in the final of the blind football championship in Juba on June 27, 2023
For Yona Sabri, 19, captain of the Gudele Blind Football Club, it is urgent that the South Sudanese face off with the national team of another country for the first time: “Playing a friendly match at the international level would allow us to know our level. Because here we play well, we score goals. But we don’t know, for example if we play against Uganda, are we going to beat them or will they beat us?”
Some even dream of participating in the 2024 Paralympic Games and hope to obtain more support to achieve this.
Text and pictures: Florence Miettaux
This story has initially aired and was published in French on Radio France Internationale (RFI).