WC goalballers want more youngsters in the sport

Ezra Bhali, Jevon Marks and Frankford Williams say they have dreams of going international with their sport but also want more focus on development locally.

Western Cape goalballers are positive that by the time they leave the sport, a legacy would have been created.

The sport is played by blind and visually impaired athletes and is made of three players a side. It involves a basketball-like ball embedded with bells being rolled on the ground to score a goal in a bowling sort of action.

The game is divided into two 12-minute halves with players all wearing blindfolds to ensure those who may have slight vision are not given an advantage.

The Paralympic sport was invented by Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle in 1946 to help visually impaired World War II veterans with their rehabilitation.

Throwing a ball across the field to the goal and then defending your goal may sound like a simple task but Western Cape player Frankford Williams will tell you the game takes a physical toll on the players.

“There’s a lot that happens, you find guys diving to each other or hitting the poles while defending, so you have to be very fit as there is a lot moving around,” he said.

Williams, 38, from Eerste Rivier, has been playing goalball since the age five in school.

The biggest challenge for him in the sport, he says, is securing venues as many community halls accommodate different sporting codes and finding a slot for their games has always been difficult.

He says in many instances they would end up training with other teams when they find a venue.

Williams is classified as B1, meaning he is completely blind.

But despite those challenges, Williams says he has been enjoying his time as a goalballer and with the Western Province team, now changed to Western Cape, which he has been part of since 2017. He has been a regular in the national championships.

“I have always wanted to be consistently selected for the provincial team, the competition is tough out there and you can only take six players to the nationals and in the Western Cape we have about seven teams.

“So being part of the best six from the province is a big achievement for me,” said Williams.

It’s fair to say there is still a lot of work to be done to develop the sport’s future and be competitive at national level also.

“My ultimate dream is to play internationally but there is a long way for us to do that because we are still trying to develop the sport on the continent.

“Hopefully we can get a big footprint of the sport within the African continent so obviously that would take us to international competitions.”

With more awareness about the sport the better the chance to have facilities for the sport, Williams says.

“There are lots of tricks and techniques that require lots of hours of practise to get it right in this sport, that is why it’s important to have facilities that allow us to have as much time as possible training.”

Gugulethu’s Ezra Bhali, 31, has been a member of Gugulethu United goalball since 2016.

His journey in the sport of goalball started in his days as a pupil at Athlone School for the Blind when his classmates encouraged him to try the sport.

He is a B2 classified athlete. Bhali wants the sport to be introduced to young people.

He believes that before developing the sport on a national level, more emphasis should be put on “our communities” first.

“My great achievement would be playing a role in growing this sport,” he said.

“As competitors, obviously we want to compete internationally that is also a dream but we need to grow the sport first,” he added.

Jevon Marks, 31, from Bellville, who is also a member of Gugulethu United goalball has been playing goalball since 2003 and says the sport has had a positive influence on his life.

He, like his teammates, started playing the game at the Athlone School for the Blind.

His visual classification is B3.

“Things like working as a team and for my personal self esteem are some of the things that I have got through playing this game,” says Marks.

He is no different from his teammates and fellow goalballers about wanting to go international with the sport in the near future.

Marks says people should never look at this sport and feel it’s an easy game as different teams are able to come with different techniques. The sound is very important in goalball for the goalkeeping side and he says there are guys who have mastered throwing the ball in such a way that one cannot hear anything as it rolls.

“Plus you need to be physically fit for this game,” he says.

Western Province Sport Association for the Physically Disabled (WPSAPD) chairperson Elze Lamrechts-Malherbe says although no official national team has been created for the goalballers yet, plans are underway to prepare one, starting by competing in the All Africa games.

The trio will be hoping to get back to competitiveness very soon as Malherbe says goalballers will be back on the court in the national championships in March 2021.