“For blind and partially sighted spectators to enjoy the full experience at a football stadium, they need to understand what is happening on the pitch and all around the ground,” explained Joyce Cook, Managing Director of the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE).

Cook was speaking at a training session for this innovative project which is being implemented in Brazil at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™.

Aimed at enhancing the experience of attending matches for blind and partially sighted people, FIFA and the Brazil 2014 Local Organising Committee (LOC) are providing a pioneering audio match commentary service in four stadiums at this summer’s World Cup. On Wednesday, in Rio de Janeiro’s famous Estadio Maracana, a training seminar was held for the volunteer commentators. 

The commentary will be similar to radio commentary, only with a greater emphasis on describing the atmosphere all around the stadium. The specially trained commentators will provide additional information about all the significant visual details inside the venue, setting the scene by depicting the body language and the facial expressions of the main protagonists in words, as well as the team movements, kit descriptions, the colours on view, and any other relevant aspect to fully transmit the spectacle and the atmosphere in the stadium.

“The commentary relates how the fans are reacting, the banter, the referee’s running style, and so on. These are aspects that nobody considers important, because you watch them naturally,” said Anderson Dias, chairman of Urece Esporte e Cultura para Cegos, an NGO partner of FIFA and the LOC that works on special projects for blind and partially sighted people. “In the commentary training session for the volunteers I heard the description of Ronaldo’s goal in the 2002 World Cup final. I heard that a shattered Oliver Kahn was left lying on the floor, while Ronaldo ran with his arms out wide in celebration. These details are lost in the TV and radio commentaries,” adds Dias, who twice won the World Cup and was a Paralympic gold medallist at the Athens 2004 Games in 5-a-side football.

The special guest at the seminar was referee Arnaldo Cezar Coelho, who officiated the final of the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain. The former official caused laughter in the audience when he stated that he was accused of being blind by thousands of fans. Coelho was full of praise for the initiative, and talked to the volunteers about the importance of understanding the referee’s reactions.

“I think it’s fantastic that FIFA is concerned about the blind and partially sighted spectators in the stadium. Having a commentator describing everything that is happening and transmitting all the emotions of a World Cup match is a great idea. I’m here to talk about the referees’ reactions on the pitch so that the commentators can transmit this to their listeners. It’s a brilliant FIFA initiative. I had never heard about it before.”

The commentary will be provided in Portuguese in four stadiums at the FIFA World Cup: Belo Horizonte (Estadio Mineirao), Brasilia (Estadio Nacional), Rio de Janeiro (Estadio do Maracana) and Sao Paulo (Arena de Sao Paulo). There will be two commentators per game, and the commentary will be broadcast on a radio frequency captured by specially provided individual headphones. Blind and partially sighted spectators can sit and listen to it anywhere in the stadium.

At least 16 pre-selected volunteers, four in each host city, will undergo an intensive training programme organised by CAFE and Urece. After speaking to Arnaldo Cezar Coelho, the volunteers did an exercise where they had to guide and be guided by their colleagues as they walked around the Maracana venue. The exercise enabled them to experience first-hand the difficulties blind and partially sighted people encounter when visiting the stadium, and at the same time recognise the responsibility of describing the surroundings to the blind.

One of the volunteers, Natalia Caldeira, 29, who has worked with blind and partially sighted people since 2004, was thrilled at the chance to take part in the FIFA World Cup project in her own country. “It’s an incredible opportunity. Not only going to World Cup games, but also having the chance to transmit what is happening and to make the experience more real for these people. It’s a big responsibility, but I’m sure we are going to learn a lot in the training and we’ll be ready do a good job.”

Just as important as the innovative aspect of the project in Brazil is the legacy it will leave. After the showpiece event, the commentary equipment installed in each stadium will be donated to local organisations that want to build on the project.

“The best part of this project is the human legacy we are creating. These volunteers are learning skills regarding how to describe events to blind and partially sighted people,” said Paula Gabriela Freitas, leader of the FIFA Sustainability Team in Brazil. “They are Brazilians who will be staying in the country and who can afterwards provide this service not only at football matches or sports events, but also at other kinds of cultural events.” 

Joyce Cook seconds this idea and sets ambitious goals for Brazil. “The ideal is to furnish all the stadia and sports venues in Brazil with this service, to make it commonplace. Blind and partially sighted people could then go to sports events like any other spectator, listen to the commentary and have the complete experience.” 

At least 12% of the global population is blind or partially sighted. More than 840 million people have this disability, of which 285 million are either blind or have low vision. In today’s Brazil very few venues provide services for blind and partially sighted people who go to live events, such as football matches. 

For the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and in accordance with Brazilian regulations, at least 1% of the total quantity of tickets offered are available for disabled customers. Disabled customers have the option of requesting a complimentary ticket for a companion to assist and accompany them to the match. The FWC stadiums are accessible to disabled people, people with limited mobility and obese people. Accessible seating, toilets and walkways are available. There are separate entrances into the stadiums for disabled people right alongside the entrances for non-disabled people.

Published 20/03/2014