Goalball, a history

Goalball was created in 1946 by Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle as a form of rehabilitation for visually impaired veterans returning from World War II to ensure that they stayed active. Goalball is a tense and fast-paced game which developed into a competitive sport through the 1950s and 1960s and is now played in over 112 countries.

As the sport was designed for visually impaired players there is no Olympic equivalent although sighted / non-disabled players can participate at a national level as long as they wear the same blackout masks as other players.

Goalball, a Paralympic sport

Goalball was originally played as a demonstration sport in the Paralympics in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1972 when it was nominated to become an official Paralympic sport. It was first played for medals in 1976 in Toronto, Canada, and has been played at every Paralympics since, with the women’s tournament being added in New York, USA, in 1984.

Goalball was first played at Paralympic level by the Great Britain team in 1980. It is now played at international, national and local levels with over 30 individual clubs running across the UK. Goalball UK hopes to get the sport introduced into the national curriculum so it can be played by all ages and abilities across the country.  

Goalball is one of the only sports where there is only one classification, although men and women play separately. Each player must have some level of visual impairment (classified as B1, B2 or B3) but to ensure there is a level playing field all players wear a blackout mask, with eye patches underneath.

Goalball is the only team sport at the Paralympics for visually impaired women.

Goalball player in action

Goalball at the Paralympic Summer Games

  • 1976 Toronto, Canada - men’s tournament only. 8 countries participated, athlete numbers are not available.
  • 1980 Arnhem, The Netherlands - men’s tournament only. 13 countries participated, athlete numbers are not available.
  • 1984 New York, USA/Stoke Mandeville, UK - men’s and women’s tournaments. 5 countries participated, athlete numbers are not available.
  • 1988 Seoul, Korea - men’s and women’s tournaments. 15 countries, 127 athletes (86 men and 41 women) participated.
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain - men’s and women’s tournaments. 14 countries, 116 athletes (70 men and 46 women) participated.
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA - men’s and women’s tournaments. 15 countries, 114 athletes (68 men and 46 women) participated.
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia - men’s and women’s tournaments. 13 countries, 116 athletes (70 men and 46 women) participated.
  • 2004 Athens, Greece - men’s and women’s tournaments. 15 countries, 119 athletes (71 men and 48 women) participated.
  • 2008 Beijing, China - men’s and women’s tournaments. 14 countries, 119 athletes (71 men and 48 women) participated.
  • 2012 London, UK - men’s and women’s tournaments. 16 countries, 128 athletes (70 men and 58 women) 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 goalball medal winners

Great Britain have not yet won any medals playing Goalball.

The female British team has competed twice at the Paralympics, first in 2000 when they did not reach the final rounds and again in 2012 when they ranked 6th.

The male team have competed four times. They did not reach the final rounds in 1980 but placed 10th in 1996, 12th in 2000 and 12th in 2012.

How goalball has evolved

The sport was originally played in two 7-minute halves, which changed to two 10-minutes and now, since London 2012, to two 12-minute halves.

Other changes to the sport include the addition of eye patches under the eyeshades to prevent cheating and the addition of a 10 second time limit in which the players must throw the ball towards the opposition’s end after contact to ensure a quicker delivery.

Rules of goalball

Goalball is a 3-a-side sport in which athletes try to score points by getting the ball across the opposing team’s goal line whilst staying on their side of the pitch. Players can throw, roll or bounce but never kick the ball and this must be done within 10 seconds of contact.

Each athlete will have a set position for the game (centre, left wing or right wing) and will be positioned, lined up in the front of the pitch wide goal. They play on their hands and knees so it is easier to block any attempted goals from their opponents. 

The sport is played on an 18m x 9m (59 x 30 feet) pitch, marked out using coloured tape as well as string or twine so the court is both visual and tactile thereby allowing players to feel their way around the pitch. 

The ball weighs approximately 1.25kg, has a diameter of 24cm (roughly the size of a basketball), has 8 sound holes so the players can hear the two bells inside and can be thrown at up to 70 miles an hour. 

Any spectators must stay silent during play so the teams can hear and locate the ball although they are allowed to cheer once a goal has been scored or during other stoppages.

The game is played in two 12-minute halves with a three-minute break in-between, during which the two teams will change sides. If there is a tie after the two halves, play will move into two three-minute overtime periods and if there is still a tie after the overtime, the game will move to penalty throws. 

An introduction to Goalball 
Video courtesy of the International Paralympic Committee.

Governing bodies

Goalball UK is the national governing body (NGB) of Goalball. British Blind Sports originally ran Goallball but it was decided that as the sport grew larger it should have its own NGB and so Goalball UK was founded in 2010.

Goalball UK is working towards the following mission statement:

To raise the profile of Goalball throughout the UK, promote participation in the sport and achieve success on the international stage.

The International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), founded in 1981, is the international governing body for Goalball.

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 over 30 Goalball clubs across the UK. To see a list of each club, listed by country and region, including training times and contacts visit Goalball UK's website.



Goalball stories

Michael Payne – Manager and Head Coach at The Derbyshire Ducks Goalball Club and volunteer official.

I first discovered goalball through a friend of mine in 2015. I was suffering with depression at the time and he thought the game would be good for my mental health. I’ve been playing ever since and joined as a volunteer official in 2017. Read more

Josh McEntee - Player for The Lancashire Lions

I haven’t been playing goalball for very long – I picked it up after I lost all my sight just over two years ago. I fell in love with the sport. It’s intense, challenging and a lot of fun. It’s also seriously pushed me, both physically and mentally – in a good way! Read more

Adam Knott - Chairman and Head Coach at Winchester Goalball Club

At the age of 15 I was travelling independently around the country to training and tournaments.  Goalball has not only increased my independence but has increased my confidence through numerous TV, radio appearences etc., given me many many new friends and overall it has given me opportunity play a sport on an even playing field with other blind and partially sighted people. Read more

To find out more information about Goalball, visit the GoalballUK website