Football for all in Berlin: blind players in action

A blind football match was played at the UEFA Champions Festival in Berlin, underlining UEFA's support for blind football and the International Blind Sports Federation.

Talented blind or visually impaired players from FC Bordeaux and MTV Stuttgart competed against each other at the UEFA Champions Festival at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

The inclusion of 'football for all abilities' in the UEFA Champions Festival falls under the umbrella of the UEFA Football and Social Responsibility programme, which promotes social integration through football and aims to increase playing opportunities for footballers of all abilities at grassroots level across Europe.

So, what exactly is blind football? Blind and partially-sighted footballers play with blindfolds on and are guided by the sound of their voices and an acoustic ball filled with shells. The nature of the game requires advanced sporting capabilities and an acute sense of space.

Hakim Arezki, a player from FC Bordeaux who lost his sight at 18, explained how he had to develop new skills to master the game: "To succeed in this sport you first have to be a footballer in spirit, then be able to communicate with your team-mates. Most importantly, you must listen to the game, the ball and the movements of the opposing team to then select the information you need and use it to your advantage."

Ulrich Pfisterer, chairman of the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) and coach of Blind Football Team Germany and of MTV Stuttgart, said: "I would like to have blind football recognised as a major sport worldwide. There are many blind people who don't know that blind football exists and that they can actually play. At the moment, there are 42 nations playing it. There are many more nations who could play, including in Africa, and our role is to help other countries develop the sport."

In Europe, 24 countries are now implementing blind football programmes. Last season, the focus of the IBSA/UEFA collaboration was to work on training camps for young players, on encouraging countries to set up programmes for blind and partially-sighted women and girls, and on distributing equipment to countries. Building on recent progress, the partnership now looks beyond Europe to emerging countries with a view to helping them develop the game.

The UEFA Champions Festival will welcome three other 'Football for all' matches until Sunday: Special Olympics, amputee football and Street Football World.