Paralympic Football: Explained
Although relatively easy to follow for fans of its able-bodied counterpart, football at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London will be played using modifications to the field of play, equipment and international FIFA rules, in order to make the sport more suitable for the athletes. Football at the Paralympics is split into two separate events and this guide will hopefully explain the key differences between association football and both forms of the Paralympic game.
Football 5-a-side, sometimes referred to as ‘futsal’, is an adaptation for athletes with visual impairments. As the name suggests, it is played using five players on each team. The field of play is 42m long and 22m wide and is surrounded by boards, eliminating the need for throw-ins and meaning that the game is played at a fast pace with few stoppages.
Athletes who compete in the sport are categorised according to their sight. B1 players are considered blind, while B2 and B3 athletes are considered visually impaired or partially sighted to different degrees. Players wear shades, which are designed to equalise the sight of all of the outfield players, in order to level the playing field. Both teams play with sighted goalkeepers, who can act as guides for the visually impaired players. Two further sighted guides are permitted for each team, although they are positioned off the field of play.
In order to aid orientation, the ball is fitted with a bell, which emits sound to the players. Communication is vitally important in the sport and, typically, the game is best-suited to those players with good close control and dribbling skills, as passing is made complicated by the small pitch and the rebounds off of the boards.
The game is divided into two 25-minute halves and 10-minutes of extra time is played, if required. The tournament begins with two groups of four teams, with four teams advancing to the knock-out rounds. The sport is relatively new to the Paralympics, making its début in Athens in 2004. The current reigning champions are Brazil. Great Britain finished fourth in the World Championships in 2010 and will be hoping home advantage will allow them to improve upon that.
Football 7-a-side is the older of the two Paralympic events and is an adaptation for athletes with neurological disorders. Most players competing in the event have cerebral palsy or have suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Players competing in the sport are given a classification, based on the level of their disability. The classes are:
C5 – Athletes with difficulties when walking and running, but not in standing or when kicking the ball.
C6 – Athletes with control and co-ordination problems of their upper limbs, especially when running.
C7 – Athletes with hemiplegia.
C8 – Minimally disabled athletes; they must meet eligibility criteria and have an obvious impairment that has impact on the sport of football.
Teams must field at least one class C5 or C6 player at all times. No more than two players of class C8 are permitted to play at any one time. Failure to field a C5 or C6 player will result in the team having to compete with one less player.
The game is played on a pitch measuring 75m in length and 55m in width. Unlike with 5-a-side football, the pitch is not surrounded by boards and throw-ins can be taken one-handed. Games are split into two 30-minute halves and extra time, if required, lasts a further 20-minutes. The tournament is organised into two groups of four teams and four teams will progress to the knock-out roundss.
The rules differ only slightly from FIFA rules. There is no offside rule, which makes defending difficult and encourages a very direct approach, with strikers often ‘goal-hanging’. The large pitch usually results in very open games, played at a fast pace.
Historically, Holland have dominated the 7-a-side game, winning Gold consecutively in 1988, 1992 and 1996. Ukraine are the reigning champions and Great Britain finished bottom of their group in Beijing four years ago.
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