As most of you will by now be aware, the 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremony is now complete and this means that we can all look forward to its forthcoming football tournaments. There is no womens event at this games, but there are two mens events, the 5-a-side event, which is played by athletes that are visually impaired using a ball containing a noise-making device, and a 7-a-side event, which is played by athletes with a physical impairment which affects their coordination, the majority of which have cerebral palsy. The tournaments will be played at the Riverbank Arena, the Olympic Park pitch that was used for the hockey events at the recently-completed Olympic Games between the thirty-first of August and the ninth of September.

The Paralympic 5-a-Side Football Tournament


History: The 5-a-side Paralympic football tournament was first introduced for the 2004 games in Athens, having first been developed in Spain and South America during the early-to-mid 1980s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the development of the game, both gold medals at the Paralympics – at Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 – were won by Brazil, with Argentina winning the silver medal eight years ago and the bronze medal last time around, China winning the silver medal four years ago and Spain winning the bronze medal in 2004. This history is probably unsurprising when we consider where the sport came from in the first place, and further proof of South Americas domination of it can be be seen by the results of the four-yearly World Championship, which has been played since 1998. Since its inauguration, Brazil has won it in 1998, 2000 and 2010, with Argentina winning it in 2002 and 2006. Britain, for the record, came fourth at the 2010 World Championship, so a medal of some description is far from beyond their grasp.

Classification: Played by competitors with visual impairments, the ruling body for the game – the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSF) – divides its athletes into three categories, which are described below:

  • B1 – Totally or almost totally blind; from no light perception up to light perception but inability to recognise the shape of a hand.
  • B2 – Partially sighted; able to recognise the shape of a hand up to a visual acuity of 2/60 or a visual field of less than 5 degrees.
  • B3 – Partially sighted; visual acuity from 2/60 to 6/60 or visual field from 5 to 20 degrees.

As well as these players, teams are allowed to use a sighted goalkeeper (though not one that has been registered with FIFA over the last five years, and he is nor permitted to leave his penalty area) and guides, who are allowed to shout instructions from the side-lines. Each player wears a blindfold in order to ensure fairness, and the ball used for matches contains ball bearings (or other noise-making device) so that the players can hear where it is.

The Rules: Matches are played over two periods of twenty-five minutes, with a ten minute break at half-time on a court that measures 42 metres long and 22 metres wide. There are no throw-ins – these are replaced with a rebound wall, and if a player commits five fouls during the course of a match he is suspended and is required to be substituted. Each squad is made up of eight players. The pitch itself is divided into three equally sided areas, with each team allowed one guide for each third of the pitch to give instructions to the players – the attacking and midfield thirds of the pitch, for which the team’s coach is the guide, and the defensive third, for which the goalkeeper is the guide.

The Entrants: Eight teams have entered this summers tournament, divided into two groups of four, with a knock-out competition for the two qualifiers from each group. They line up as follows: in Group A are Great Britain, Spain, Argentina and Iran. In Group B are Brazil, China, France and Turkey.


The Paralympic 7-a-Side Football Tournament


History: The first international 7-a-side competition for athletes with Cerebal Palsy took place in Edinburgh 1978 at the Cerebral Palsy International Games. It was later introduced for the New York and Stoke Mandeville Games in 1984, and has remained on the roster since then. The event was dominated by the Netherlands, who won gold at three successive games between 1988 and 1996, but the Dutch have been unable to repeat their success since then. Russia won the gold medal at the 2000 games, but the current team to beat is Ukraine, who have won the last two successive gold medals in 2004 and 2008. The British team is not as widely-fancied in this event as it is in the 7-a-side competition – it finished bottom of its group in Beijing four years ago and lost one of its matches 8-1 against Ukraine.

Classification: As with the 5-a-side tournament, players are classified according to the nature of their impairment. The sport is governed by the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (the CP-ISRA), and the classifications are as follows:

  • C5 – athletes whose impairment causes the greatest disadvantage on the field of play and has a significant impact when walking and running.
  • C6 – athletes with an impairment that have an impact on the control and coordination of their arms, especially when running.
  • C7 – athletes with an impairment that affect one arm and one leg on the same side of the body.
  • C8 – athletes whose impairments cause the least disadvantage on the field of play – These players often have involuntary muscle contractions as well as a tightness in their muscles.

All competing teams must include at least one athlete of either the C5 or C6 classification on the pitch, and no more than two C8 players are allowed to play at the same time. If this is not possible, the team must play with six players.

The Rules: Broadly speaking, the rules of the game are very similar to the full game but it does include several notable differences. Firstly, the pitches are smaller, of course – seventy-five metres long by fifty-five metres wide, and the goals are five metres wide and two metres high. In addition to this, there is no offside in this event, and throw-ins may be taken with one hand. Matches consist of two thirty minute halves, with a ten minute break for half-time.

The Entrants: As with the 5-a-side competition, this competition is made up of two groups of four, with the top two from each group progressing to the semi-finals of the competition. The teams have been drawn out as follows: Group A – Russia, Argentina, Netherlands and Iran. Group B – Great Britain, Brazil, Ukraine and the United States of America.

As with all other major tournaments we will be bringing you regular updates from both events at this tournament, starting with the first round of group matches, which is to be played this weekend.

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