Goalball and swimming for people with disabilities: learn about Luca’s experience in Sarajevo

Friday 30 June 2023

Home » Experiences » Goalball and swimming for people with disabilities: learn about Luca’s experience in Sarajevo

Hello everyone, my name is Luca Girgenti, 33 years old, born and living in Palermo. With this short text I want to share the experience I had at the beginning of May in Sarajevo, participating in the second meeting between the organisations of the Erasmus+ project called “Inclusion Reloaded”.

The project was developed to address and consolidate the practice of sports disciplines that promote the inclusion of marginalised young people and young people with motor and intellectual disabilities. The project involved as many as 8 organisations from Italy, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Portugal, and the planned meeting in Sarajevo consisted of a Study Visit – Exchange of Good Practices, i.e. a meeting between the organisations dedicated to sharing and exchanging good practices and experience in the field. Our hosts were the two Bosnian organisations SPID and CENTAR, respectively a swimming club for people with disabilities and a sports club for the blind and visually impaired.

From the first moment CESIE invited me to participate in the project my interest was very strong, in fact I immediately said yes and my expectations during the days spent in Sarajevo were definitely exceeded.

The first day was dedicated to an intense table to present the history of these organisations, the data collected, both technical and non-technical, and the work carried out in recent years both with the children and their families Around the table there were about twenty of us, there were several academics, both professors and doctoral students and researchers, the managers, a group of athletes, coaches, trainers and several facilitators. After each presentation the questions never ran out and the debate was interesting and inspiring. The passion of these people permeated the entire room and for me it was a privilege to be able to listen to all this information.

The next day was more about practice and getting to know the spaces used by organisations. We visited a training session of the SPID club in the Olympic swimming pool in Sarajevo, and observed how the coaches manage the training of the children according to their age, type of disability and level of technical preparation. Observing the motor gestures of young people, and children, on the autism spectrum, or without one or more limbs and/or malformations or other syndromes, was shocking; the dedication, commitment, willpower they express and their smiles marked me deeply.

Next we visited the CENTAR club for the visually impaired and blind. Here too, the watchwords were passion and fun. We first watched a GoalBall match, in Italian called Pallarete, which I personally did not know existed but which has even been practised since the 1980s at the Paralympics. On the field, generally indoors, two teams of 3 players face each other, in extreme silence, trying to throw and/or parry a ball that contains bells inside. The goals are about 1.2 m high and extend the entire length of the court; this is the same size as a volleyball court and there are scotch tape on the ground for players to orient themselves by touch. Relying on hearing, then, the players shoot or intercept the ball trying to score a goal.

Observing the game in extreme silence and composure I think is one of the greatest forms of respect, but in this case it is also necessary for the game to run smoothly. In this sport, the match director even has the power to send the entire audience out to ensure the best playing conditions. Something similar happens in tennis.

The nice thing is that after watching, it was our turn to play, blindfolded, against the national team. After a few minutes, useful for getting familiar with one’s position on the court, the match immediately became exciting and hard-fought. The ball has a size 7, like a basketball, is not easy to throw by hand and is made of the same hard leather; I realised this because in one of the parries it was my nose that stopped the ball, plus after a parry it is not easy to return to the starting position and find the ribbons on the floor again by touch. A couple of times I hit the goal posts badly and maybe even threw the ball violently into the audience.

Luca Girgenti

Having finished the match and removed the blindfold, having returned to my normal self, I could not help but reflect on the fact that for these guys the game does not end with the referee’s whistle, but continues for life. Their smiles, as well as their eagerness to demonstrate their skills, filled me with a unique joy and a great sense of gratitude. In this case, sport was a real arena for social interaction and sharing, a place of inclusion and mutual learning.

In Italy, in Palermo, I returned with greater awareness. Thanks to this experience I understood, even more than before, how important it is to support these realities and the training of all those who work in contact with young people with disabilities, during what for them is a long and delicate process of growth. To conclude, I cannot fail to mention the icing on the cake of this trip, the city that hosted us, Sarajevo.

This capital city, which has a population of less than three hundred thousand, is a small pearl of multiculturalism and religious integration, immersed in a beautiful natural setting and with a mentality that is both dynamic and conservative at the same time, perhaps at times still too close to the last war and the period of its siege, which only ended in ’96. The organisations also took care of our free time so that we could discover its most beautiful features, and I, welcomed by my new friends in this experience and surrounded by those beautiful mountains, felt that very sense of belonging that I feel when I observe Palermo from above, I felt at home.

Luca Girgenti