Lack of support fails to kill dreams of Russia’s blind footballers
Visually impaired football in Russia is far from the level enjoyed by some other countries, but this hasn't stopped the national side from getting the better of established powerhouses of blind football, with success still largely dependant on individual enthusiasm and rare acts of support.
The so-called Goalball along with Futsal make up two different events at the modern Paralympic Games. Russia failed to qualify for the London Games from the latest European championship in Turkey, where a coin toss decided their fate after the match against the hosts Turkey ended in a goalless draw.
“We all knew that it would be hard to qualify for the London Paralympics. Who knows what would have happened if we reached the semi-finals. But they decided to throw a coin after our draw with Turkey instead of a penalty shootout which is not very sportsmanlike. So it's a pity,” says team Russia player Sergey Manzhos.
These guys know that they are strong enough to compete with the best.However, the luck of the draw at the European Championship in Turkey is not the only factor hampering Russia's efforts.
Lack of support and little to no funding from football authorities and government sport departments add to the already obstacle-filled lives of these courageous athletes.
“Sometimes we have to pitch in for uniforms and even some of our trips to competitions, like the latest Presidents Cup, for example. We had our last training camp in Sochi and had to pay our own way there as well,” says Manzhos’s teammate Vyacheslav Zhiltsov.
Hopefully, the team's financial woes will soon be over but it's apparent that money or lack of it will never become a barrier for the guys who are not used to giving up.
Head coach Nikolay Beregovoy still has no official status within the sport’s authority, but over the last seven years his team have become five-time champions of Russia, and the base of the national squad.
“After my team defeated world runners up Spain at a domestic international tournament and continued on beating the likes of England and Germany over in Greece, financing was suddenly cut and the team was inactive from October until May. So our Paralympic dreams were futile from the beginning,” Beregovoy says.
The passion of blind football is evident the first time you lay your eyes on one of the training sessions, which sometimes can be more traumatic than any other Olympic sport.The medical wellbeing of injured players is in the hands of just one doctor who spends all of her free time with the team.
“Typical injuries for the visually impaired usually happen when they collide with each other and get bumps and bruises. A pulled muscle or a broken limb are unfortunately also a regular occurrence. I've even come across a player who mistakenly kicked the opponent’s head instead of the ball,” the team’s doctor Kristina shares.