Vision-impaired players compete during a goalball match at Palestine Stadium, in Gaza City, Nov. 21, 2019. (Photo by Rizek Abdeljawad/Xinhua)
by Sanaa Kamal
GAZA, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- As soon as Deyaa Abu Dayya heard the referee's whistle, he and his teammates began working together to prevent the opponent's ball from entering into their goal.
This might sound similar to a game of football, but it is actually goalball, a three-player team sport designed specifically for athletes with a vision impairment.
Goalball uses a ball with bells inside, allowing players to use the sound to work out the position and movement of the ball. They throw the ball by hand, and try to move it across the opposing team's goal line.
The rules of goalball require the field of play to 18 meters long by nine meters wide, with goals spanning the width of the pitch. To ensure all players compete on an equal footing, players who are partially sighted compete with their eyes covered by eyepatches.
Unusually for a team sport, spectators at goalball matches are obliged to remain silent during passages of play, allowing the players to rely on their hearing to throw and block the ball.
Abu Dayya, who is over 30 years old, is blind and plays for the goalball club of the Islamic University of Gaza, where he has played the sport since it was launched in the Gaza Strip in 2014.
As a boy growing up in Saudi Arabia, he had an accident which caused his blindness. "I was shocked and hated my life because I would not be like the other children," Abu Dayya told Xinhua as he warmed up before a goalball match.
"I was a football player during my childhood and I won several titles in Saudi Arabia," he said, adding that he continued to play football even after his accident. Soon afterwards, he joined the Saudi national goalball team, with whom he won several championships.
Abu Dayya was considered the first ever goalball player in the Gaza Strip, when he returned with his family to Palestine in 1996, after the Oslo Accords were signed by then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
At first he played the game with his friends in the streets, after covering their eyes with scarfs. "It was a strange game for children, but an amazing one and they loved it," he said.
"I am so proud to be the first person to play this game in Gaza," he added, noting that he subsequently trained dozens of children with disabilities in his neighborhood.
A goalball championship in the Gaza Strip resulted in Abu Dayya's Islamic University of Gaza side defeating their opponents from Dir al-Balah.