Have you heard of Blind Football? If this is something new to you, let me tell you it’s fast, furious and entertaining. Basically, it’s five-a-side; outfield players must be registered as B1 (completely blind) and goalkeepers can be either sighted or partially sighted. To ensure fairness outfield players wear blindfolds; although registered B1, a player may still be able to perceive light. The ball is modified to make a jingling or rattling sound.
In August, the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) World Games took place in Birmingham. One of the sports was Blind Football. I volunteered for the championships and was fortunate to be placed in the team at Birmingham University, and in particular the volunteers assigned to the Blind Football.
The Women’s Blind Football World Championship was the first of its kind; in effect, the first World Cup. Argentina, Austria, England, Germany, India, Japan, Morocco and Sweden vied for the prestige to become the inaugural World Champions.
The final was notable as it was the first to be officiated by an all-female team. The result was Argentina 2-1 Japan.
Following their return to Argentina, and having had some time to process their historic win, I was able to interview Coach Gonzalo Abbas (GA), goalkeeper Micaela ‘Mika’ Segovia (MS), who is sighted, and Captain Gracia Sosa (GS). Mika was awarded the ‘Golden Glove’ and Gracia was the final’s MVP.
I began by asking about the nickname for the Men’s and Women’s teams. Why are they called ‘The Bats’?
GA: All Argentine sports teams have a nickname which is the name of an animal. It was the Captain of the Men’s team who came up with the idea of The Bats, since the bat navigates in the dark by sound.
So, that win. World Champions. A bit of an obvious question, but just how do they feel about what they accomplished in Birmingham?
MS: Total happiness, because it's something we worked hard for and dreamed of, not only individually but also as a team. It was the result of collective work and effort that became a reality and, as time goes by, it gains even more significance.
GS: Being a world champion is a great happiness. I always dreamed of winning such a championship in some sport. Thanks to God, I achieved it in soccer.
GA: I feel great satisfaction and immense joy to have achieved the world title, because it has been many years of work and struggle for women's soccer to have its place. We were pioneers in women's sports in Cordoba 11 years ago, and achieving this title was the culmination of all that work over so many years.
And what about sport in general; when did that become part of their life?
MS: I have been doing sports my whole life. I started with swimming and field hockey when I was very young, and in fact, I played hockey until last year.
GS: I have been involved in high-performance sports since I was 14. I participated in rowing and athletics in the Argentinean National Teams, and I have always played football since I was young due to having four brothers.
But they chose football. What’s their journey been like?
GS: I joined my home team "Las Guerreras" in 2016, but initially declined the offer in 2012 due to living in Buenos Aires and focusing on athletics.
MS: I have loved football for a long time, but it wasn't considered a sport for women. As an adult, I started training and playing futsal in a club, and in 2021, a friend invited me to join her blind football project called Pirañas de Avellaneda. So, I started playing goalkeeper there, and later on, I received the call to join the national team and be part of the Las Murciélagas team.
GA: I’ve played sport all my life. In 2000, I met a guy named Lucas Rodríguez, a player from Los Murciélagos whom I became friends with in college. From there I started practicing blind football as a goalkeeper. I spent 10 years with Los Murciélagos. And when I retired from goalkeeping, I started dedicating myself to being a coach for both men's and women's football teams in Cordoba in 2012.
I was interested to know about Mika’s role beyond that of stopping the ball going into the net.
MS: The work of the goalkeeper in blind football is also about constant communication to guide the players based on the ball's position, the rival players, and even the teammates. There is a lot of work that is developed during training.
These ladies aren’t professionals. Mika is a physical education and sports student. I wondered what Gracia does.
GS: I am a personal trainer, and I train people based on my experience in sports and high performance coaching.
Back to the football and do they have a football hero or heroine?
GA: Heroines for me are the first two girls to start this important women's soccer project and then all the Murciélagas who became world champions.
Gracia answered in one word: Messi!
What about a favourite team?
MS: I am a fan of Club Atlético Independiente. Messi and Dibu Martínez came from Independiente's youth system. When it comes to specific goalkeepers, I always like to watch different sports, so I would mention Belén Succi as a great goalkeeper and a significant player in Argentine hockey.
GA: Belgrano de Cordoba and Las Murciélagas.
GS: Boca Juniors.
So, when the football practice or match is over, what do they like to do to relax?
GA: I like to relax by fishing and sharing a day in the countryside with my family, and watching my children play sports.
GS: I enjoy relaxing by listening to music and drinking maté with my friends. [Maté is a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused herbal drink].
Finally, I was keen to know how important they felt initiatives like Her Game Too are for girls and young women, regardless of whether they are physically able-bodied or have a physical or learning disability. Mika stepped up for this one and her answer gives us a lot of food for thought: It is very important to have initiatives like this, where more spaces are enabled not only for sports, but also to gain many more rights that women have been relegated from for many years, whether they have a disability or not. It is important that we are allowed to do it. First, there must be the places, trained people, and continuous growth. The more opportunities we have, the better conditions we will have.
These ladies have been given opportunities to play football together and, together, they’ve become the first Women’s Blind Football World Champions. It was my privilege not only to see them play but also to see them off the pitch relaxed and just enjoying the moment. So, my thanks to Gracia, Mika and Gonzalo. Vamos Las Murciélagas!
You can find out more about their sport at blindfootball.sport, where you can also watch highlights and matches from the World Championship.
All Images Credit: Richard Hall/IBSA