We call it the beautiful game because it’s sexy. Dizzying runs, whipped in balls and a perfect arching shot are just as visually pleasing turns as curves on the opposite sex for us football fanatics.
And that moment when the ball hits the net after the perfect build up? I’ll let you dream up your own metaphor for that one.
While we experience what the game has to offer with multiple senses, what we see on the field is what makes it so intoxicating. Unless you're on the field, you can’t touch the ball. And if you're not at the stadium, the sound of the crowd simply can’t be duplicated. But that vision, that ability to view each pass and shot is something most of us can enjoy, even from the comfort of our living rooms.
However, not everyone has that ability we take for granted each time we turn on the television to catch a match. On a Wednesday afternoon in a park in Bogotá, Colombia, we found that sight isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying the beautiful game.
Twice a week in the Parque Nacional in the Colombian capital, a team of visually impaired footballers gets together to play. With the help of blindfolds, each member has their sight totally eliminated, as some players experience vision loss to different degrees.
Hardly a casual kick around, the players go through the paces of any normal team. They stretch, they do drills and they scrimmage at the end of their sessions. They take it seriously too. This particular team represents all of Cundinamarca - the largest of Colombia’s 32 Federal Departments - and just last year, the team won an international tournament in Guatemala for 5-aside visually impaired teams in Latin America. That’s certainly more than most of us can boast when it comes to our international football careers.
Playing with and learning from the Cundinamarca team
Watching the team play was an experience in itself, but Pete and I found there is no substitute for strapping on the blindfold and getting into the match.
If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable on a football pitch, think of that experience and take away your ability to see. Oh, and if you’re like me, take away your ability to fully understand the language your team is speaking. If it seems a bit terrifying, that’s because it is.
Pete and I have been in our fair share of sporting events in the past, but we were both in agreement that the nerves we felt before stepping on the field with the team from Cundinamarca were difficult to match.
But after a few minutes, we got into a groove. We relaxed a little and you begin to find your spot on the field and become more comfortable. That’s not to say Pete and I played well. We were terrible. Even without the ability to see what we were doing, we could sense that we were terrible.
Oddly enough, that ability to sense our own mistakes and errors was the most rewarding part of the experience. When you have the ability to use visual aids, it’s easy to overlook the need to communicate, position yourself and simply be aware of what is happening on the field. However, if you take that away, something beautiful happens: you start to feel and sense the game around you. You find yourself taking more measured steps than you normally would, and listening to the words (or cardinal directions) of your teammates a little more closely.
It was a mind-opening lesson about the importance of communication and awareness in football. If you really want to improve as a player, there are few better ways to enhance your game than putting on the blindfold. Although Pete and I won’t be signing a massive contract for a big club anytime soon, we might just be a little better because of the match we played in Bogotá.
As football fans, we look for the game to give us a little more each time we watch or play. I can say with certainty that on that Wednesday afternoon in the Colombian capital, the game gave me more than I will ever be able to reciprocate.
No matter how hard I try, it’s hard to fully explain the sensation of playing blind football. If you can, try it for yourself. You might just find there’s another version of football that’s just as beautiful as the one you’re used to.
While the game isn’t big in the United States today, it will hopefully grow in the coming years. In fact, Luis Casteñeda Jr., the son of our main subject of the Cundinamarca team, is heading to the U.S. in the coming months to give presentations about the sport at some of the country’s most reputable colleges and universities for the visually impaired. We wish him the best will keep everyone posted about Luis’ efforts.