5-a-side football, a history

Spain are considered to be the pioneers of ‘blind football’, having played the sport since the 1920s. Brazil, on the other hand, started developing football 5-a-side in the 1960s and held the first national tournament in 1974. 

There are 35 countries that compete in the sport, which has grown rapidly in popularity around the world. Similar to 7-a-side football - which has been contested since 1984 – 5-a-side is only contested by male athletes with varying levels of visual impairment. Alongside the Paralympic Games, there are World Championships held every four years between, and there are also European Championships which form the basis of qualification for the Paralympic Games.

After the sport joined the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) in 1996, the first international competitions were held. In 1997, the first IBSA European Championships took place in Barcelona, Spain, whilst Asuncion, Paraguay, hosted the first American Championships. One year later, the first IBSA World Championships were held in Brazil. The competition has been dominated by Brazil right from the start, with the team winning four world titles, whilst rivals Argentina, have claimed two.

5-a-side football, a Paralympic sport

The introduction of the sport to the Paralympics, at Athens 2004, was undoubtedly the most significant moment in the history of football 5-a-side and has featured at every Games since.

During London 2012, 5-a-side was played at the Riverbank Arena at the Olympic Park, from 31st August to 8th September. Great Britain played in Group B, drawing 1-1 with Spain, 0-0 with Argentina, and being defeated 0-1 by Iran. This meant that Great Britain finished bottom of Group B, and did not make it through to the knockout stages. Their only goal of the tournament was scored by David Clarke.

5-a-side football at the Paralympic Summer Games 

  • 2004 Athens, Greece - 1 event, 6 countries and 58 athletes (all men) participated.
  • 2008 Beijing, China - 1 event, 6 countries and 60 athletes (all men) participated.
  • 2012 London, UK - 1 event, 8 countries and 64 athletes (all men) participated.

Disclaimer -
Some information from earlier Paralympic Games (i.e. 1960-1988) such as relay and team members are not presented in the IPC source data. Therefore, final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be complete.
Important note on the definition of participants: Only athletes that appear in the official results books in the section of final results are included in the database and counted towards participant statistics. Data for 2014 and 2016 are accurate. Statistics for previous Games are under review by the IPC.
Important note on competition partners: Competition partners eligible for medals are included in the combined participant statistics until 2014. Statistics for 2016 and beyond consider athletes with an impairment and their competition partners separately. 

British 5-a-side medal winners

Since their first inclusion in the sport at Paralympic level at Beijing 2008 where they gained 5th place, Great Britain are yet to win any medals, however, they have had successes outside of the Games. 2009 European Championships – 2nd Place, 2010 World Championships - 4th Place, and 2011 European Championships - 3rd Place.

Great Britain's most notable player is David Clarke, who has scored goals at both of Great Britain’s Paralympics appearances. At Beijing 2008, he received his 100th cap, and as a result is one of the team’s most capped players. Retiring after the London 2012 games, where he was also a Paralympic torch bearer, Clarke has also featured in the Channel 4 documentary ‘Inside Incredible Athletes’, and was inducted in the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2013.

How 5-a-side football has evolved

5-a-side was originally known as ‘Blind Football’, and evolved as an adapted version of futsal. The rules have been adapted from the standard FIFA rules, as mentioned, however they continue to develop and evolve with the sport. Most recently, changes have been bought in following the Rio 2016 games, that will take effect at the Tokyo 2020 Games. 

Rules of 5-a-side football

The sport is ruled by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), with rules adapted from those used by FIFA. 5-a-side is considered by many to be an extremely exciting game, with only a few modifications from the game played worldwide. 

5-a-side is played with four outfield players, all with a B1 visual impairment, and one goalkeeper who is sighted or B2/B3 category (plus five substitutes). Each outfield player wears eye shades to ensure fairness, and the goalkeeper, along with off-pitch guides behind the goals, can issue instructions to the outfield players throughout the game. The ball includes a sound system made up of ball bearings, which helps the players to locate the ball and orientate themselves – this means that, unlike with mainstream football, spectators of 5-a-side must remain silent while the game is in play – if they create too much noise, the referee can have them removed. They are, of course, allowed to celebrate a goal! 

Penalties can be awarded if a player touches their eyeshade, if a player pushes or kicks their opponent, or if the goalkeeper leaves their area. Red cards are awarded to players committing five fouls during one game. Players call out their names, or shout “yeah”, to let their teammates know where they are, and have to shout “voy” as they approach to tackle in order to minimise injury. 

Unlike mainstream football, the 5-a-side pitch measures 40m long and 20m wide, with borders known as kickboards around the edge to bounce the ball back onto the field. Therefore, there are no throw-ins, and there is also no offside rule.

Previously, each game has been played for a total of 50 minutes, 25 each half, with teams having the opportunity to request a one minute time-out in each half. A further modification from the FIFA rules is the inclusion of a timekeeper, who stops the clock for every free kick, goal kick and corner kick given within the last two minutes of each half. In the event of a draw, the match can go to penalties to determine a winner.

Governing bodies

Internationally, 5-a-side is governed by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA). The British Paralympic Association govern the sport within the UK, with involvement from the Football Association (The FA).

Regional clubs

The BPA have created an online directory, Parasport, where you can search for and find out about sport and physical activity in your area.

There are a number of regional training hubs for 5-a-side alongside the existence of the National Blind Football League. Matches within the league are played monthly between October and March, and there is also a cup competition played annually at the end of the season. Fixtures are played at the Royal National College for the Blind, which is situated in Hereford, and are open to the public to watch. All abilities are catered for within the league, with players from the training hubs being allocated to a team alongside the national squad members. More information about regional training hubs can be found on local County FA websites – you can search for your local FA website here.