Blind football offers new hope in South Sudan
Blind football is still in its infancy in South Sudan but the league organisers hope their teams can eventually start competing in regional matches.
The Juba Boys FC started in 2020 and is now participating in the country's first ever blind football league, with the final due to be held next week.
"At first, it was not easy. Many of us thought that it is a crazy idea. How a person, visually-impaired, total, who is not seeing, how can he or she play football? This is what at first we think. The association quickly mobilized young visually-impaired youth, and then we were able to introduce a system of blind football", said Charles Pasqual Clement, Chairperson, Blind Football Association.
For head coach Simon Madol Akol, blind football helps fight discrimination as well as offering new hope to many visually-impaired youngsters.
"If you can see people who are visually impaired, yani (Arabic word meaning 'that is to say,' ed.), they are considered as people who don't have a lot of things to do, yani, in most sports they are excluded. So, for us, we see that this sport can really bring people with visual impairment back to the field. Now they have space to communicate with those who are not visually-impaired - like you see, when we were playing, some who are not totally blind and they are communicating like their are friends. When they meet outside, they are friends. So, the trauma and all the bad things that were in someone's mind can be taken away", said head coach Simon Madol Akol.
For team captain, Mubarak Joseph Hilary, blind football was game-changer in his life as it opened the door to a lot of things he previously thought were not possible.
"We have heard a lot of people talking negatively about us visually impaired people, but I used to face them because they kept on telling us that we wouldn't benefit from playing football. It is not because we are blind that we have lost everything in our life, what a person who can see can do is the same as what a blind person can do, and we blind people can even do it even better", said Mubarak Joseph Hilary, Captain of the Juba Boys Football Club.
Blind football has slowly grown to involve more than 80 players who meet for matches in Juba, with plans to expand the game's reach to other parts of the country.