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Here’s what happened when we played Ghana’s national goalball team

The first thing you need to know about goalball is that it's not just for the visually impaired.

What is goalball?

It’s a team sport in which a ball containing a bell is thrown at the opposing team’s goal. As a player, you’re relying solely on the sound of the bell.

This Paralympic sport was first created back in the 1940s as a way of helping rehabilitate World War 2 veterans who’d had their vision impaired in combat. Through the 1950s and 60s, this fast-paced game started becoming competitive, becoming an official Paralympic sport in 1980. 

One thing we love is that all players wear eyeshades to compete on an equal playing level – meaning that it’s not just for visually impaired players.

What did we do?

At ICS we believe that diverse groups of young people working together leads to innovation and makes a greater impact. So who better to work on a disability rights project than those with their own personal experience of disability?

We came up with an idea.

We put together a team of both sighted and visually impaired UK and Ghanaian volunteers on a project called REACT, and asked Paralympian - and International Service ambassador - Georgie Bullen to train them how to play.

The team used the sport as a way to challenge disability stigma in northern Ghana - and it all ended with a tournament against local teams trained by our volunteers, and Ghana's own national team.

See our favourite photos from behind the scenes.

Jo Baker, CEO of International Service with Paralympian Georgie Bullen
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

1.
This is Jo Baker (right), CEO of ICS partner agency International Service. Here she is with Paralympian Georgie Bullen who's been training the team to play the Paralympic sport of goalball ahead of a tournament against Ghana's national team.

Ghanaian volunteers Amadu Alale, 23, with Mahe Imoro, 22
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

2.
Ghanaian volunteer Amadu Alale, 23 (left), has a sight impairment. He's with fellow volunteer Mahe Imoro, 22. They're preparing for the game at the office.

Ghanaian volunteer Simon Atipkiliama, 32
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

3.
Simon Atipkiliama, 32, is the Ghanaian team leader. He's visually impaired and wants to rise up the ranks of his local Disabled People's Organisation. 

Volunteers spray paint balls with the REACT project logo
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi
UK volunteer Richard Wheatley, 23 played in the under 19s Paralympics in Brazil
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

4.
UK volunteer Richard Wheatley,
 23 (above right), is no stranger to goalball - even playing in the under 19s Paralympics in Brazil. He'll be taking his ICS story to Edinburgh's Fringe Festival this summer.

"We did sensitisation sessions at churches where I talked about what I'd done. That really changed people’s minds. Telling people I had a degree and medals in sports – that surprised them. They now see a range of things that blind people can do. Not just playing sports."

Volunteer Richard Wheatley stands by the balls in the hours before the tournament
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

5.
In Ghana, over 300,000 people live with severe visual impairment. Due to a lack of understanding about disability, they are often excluded from society. On REACT, it's not just about goalball. Volunteers have been tackling stigma around disability in the regions of Sandema and Tamale through campaigning.

Volunteers relax at the stadium in Tamale before the tournament
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

6.
Ghana set a target this month for the country to qualify in three sports – including goalball – for the next Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, in 2020.

Volunteers carry equipment at the stadium before the tournament
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi
UK volunteer Dan Barnes, 18, sits with the REACT trophy
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

7.
Dan Barnes, 18 (above right) sits with the trophy as the teams get ready to play at Tamele's Aliu Mahama Stadium. Watching on were host families, the local community and officials from Ghana's blind sporting association.

UK volunteer Nikita Slate, 19, walks with Dylan Webb, 22, as they prepare to play
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

8.
Nikita Slate, 19, (right) walks with Dylan Webb, 22, as they prepare to play.

"My misconceptions about the Global South were challenged. I thought disabled people wouldn’t go out, but we saw so many who did. But there’s more effort in UK to make people feel the same. I repeated our motto, 'disability is not inability', so many times I think they've got it!"

In every goalball game you need 10 referees - these volunteers are preparing
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

9.
Using their new knowledge, ICS volunteers took on the role of refereeing the tournament. Fun fact: in every goalball game, you need 10 people to referee.

Two separate teams of volunteers - one in Sandema and one in Tamale - played each other before playing Ghana's national goalball team
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi
Two separate teams of volunteers - one in Sandema and one in Tamale - played each other before playing Ghana's national goalball team
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

10.
Two separate teams of volunteers - one in Sandema and one in Tamale - played each other before playing Ghana's national goalball team.

Paralympian Georgie Bullen was diagnosed with the sight impairment 'macular degeneration' at age five and was registered blind by the age of eight
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

11.
Georgie Bullen was diagnosed with the sight impairment 'macular degeneration' at age five and was registered blind by the age of eight.

The Sandema goalball team at the tournament pose for a team photo
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

12.
Here's the Sandema team.

A volunteer defends their goal during the match
© ICS / International Service / Nick Adatsi

13.
It's only been four years since Ghana's first ever goalball competition. This year, on African Union Day, tournaments happened all over the country. We want a future where more people play goalball and learn about disability rights.

 

To find out more about International Service and their REACT disability rights programme, click here. Throughout July we'll be featuring more of the personal stories behind the project.