To the uninitiated, it looks like six football goalkeepers playing a vicious game of ten-pin bowling… all blindfolded, and in complete silence.
This is the Paralympic sport of goalball, one of 20 sports on offer at the London Paralympics.
The rules of the sport are simple: two teams of three position themselves either end of an 18-metre court, all wearing blackout masks so that the partially sighted have no advantage.
One player then hurls the ball along the floor as hard as possible towards the goal of the opposing team, all of whom dive across the floor in an effort to block it. Two bells inside the ball alert them to its trajectory, which explains the silence during play.
Either a goal is scored or the defenders trap the ball, after which play switches ends and defenders become attackers. Often, the ball-thrower will spin round, like a hammer thrower, before unleashing the ball at speeds up to 60mph towards the opposite goal.
Goalball was first invented in 1946 as part of an effort to rehabilitate blinded veterans from the Second World War. Introduced to the Paralympics in 1976, it has been growing in popularity ever since, and is now played in over 100 nations worldwide. At the Beijing Paralympics, China took gold in the men’s event, while USA took gold in the women’s.
At the London Paralympics, the British home teams were looking to make their mark on the sport. One of the top players in the women’s team is Jessica Luke. She says the conditions in the Handball Arena are perfect. “There are really good acoustics. And there’s a real atmosphere to it.”