A 36-year-old Fluminense fan, Daniela Matoso dos Santos is disabled and has always settled for following the game on radio or on TV, with friends describing the action for her. Or at least she did until Saturday, when she made her first visit to the Maracana, for the Round of 16 tie between Colombia and Uruguay, an experience that she was able to enjoy to the full.

“It was very exciting,” a suitably impressed Daniela told FIFA.com after she had finished cheering Colombia on. “It felt like I was right inside the TV. I could hear everything I usually hear on TV, but this time I was right there, in the middle of everything, taking part in it all.”

Daniela’s rewarding experience at the Maracana was made possible thanks to the audio description commentary service that is being provided at the FIFA World Cup™ thanks to a joint FIFA-Brazil 2014 Organising Committee (LOC) initiative. With the help of a radio, blind and partially-sighted fans can tune into the service and keep abreast of everything that happens not just on the pitch but around them in the stadium.

The commentary, created especially for blind and partially-sighted people, resembles a standard radio commentary but puts more of an emphasis on the experience inside the stadium. Stationed in the press box, a specially trained commentator describes every meaningful detail to listeners, such as the colours of the kits the teams are wearing, the movements and reactions of the players, the response of the fans in the stands and the general atmosphere and appearance of the stadium.

“There’s no question that the audio description is a lot better than the commentaries you usually get on the radio,” explained Daniela. “They don’t just tell you who’s on the ball – they tell you about the whole move. The commentators try to describe every possible detail, like the colours of the kits, everything that goes on before and after the game and the goal celebrations.

“To be honest, goal celebrations aren’t that important a detail for people who can see properly,” she added. “I know because I just asked someone who’s watching the game with me.”

The FIFA World Cup audio description commentary service is being coordinated by CAFE in partnership with the local non-governmental organisation Urece Esporte e Cultura para Cegos, which is a partner of FIFA and the LOC and organises special projects for partially sighted and blind people. The commentary is available to ticket holders at every world finals match staged in Sao Paulo (at 88.7 FM), Brasilia (98.3 FM), Belo Horizonte (103.3 FM) and Rio de Janeiro (88.9 FM).  

A typically Brazilian flavour
As you might expect of a Brazilian commentary, the audio description service has its own unique flavour, with the match narrators relating events in an excitable style.

“Passion for football is in our blood, and the blind and partially-sighted people who use the service have been asking us the whole time to transmit that passion,” explained Mauana Simas, one of the project coordinators. “We have to get the excitement of the occasion across. Blind people are used to listening to games on the radio, and that’s the way they commentate. It’s something they started. You have to have heart and soul when you commentate, because it’s all part and parcel of our culture.”

Anyone wishing to use the service must take their own headphones with them to the stadium as well as a small portable radio or smartphone with an FM receiver. They should also make sure that their device complies with the Stadium Code of Conduct, in particular Section 4, on prohibited items.

A version of this article is also available in Portuguese.

Published 01/07/2014