Japan’s blind football women’s national team a first for Asia

The Japan Blind Football Association (JBFA) on Monday announced the formation of a women’s national team as the sport seeks to include more female players at all age levels.

The team, which will officially begin activities in April, will be managed by JBFA head of development Shigeo Murakami. The 34-year-old was the first-ever goalkeeper for the country’s blind football men’s national team, leading them to first place in the 2005 Asian Blind Football Championships.

“Until now our female players have had to train with the men in less-than-ideal circumstances, and it’s thanks to the support of everyone at the JBFA that we can create this national team and challenge ourselves at the international level,” Murakami commented.

The team will debut at the inaugural International Blind Sports Association (IBSA) Women’s Blind Football Tournament 2017, to be held from May 2 in Vienna, Austria. Japan will be the first Asian country to field a women’s national team in the sport, according to a JBFA official.

Blind football, a five-a-side game contested on futsal-sized court surrounded by boards, uses balls filled with metal bearings which ring when kicked. Field players, who wear eye masks and attempt to score against sighted goalkeepers, navigate the pitch solely through audio cues.

The 2014 IBSA Blind Football World Championships, which drew thousands of fans to Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, featured Japan, China, and Korea Republic alongside eventual champions Brazil and several other South American and European teams.

While women’s blind football will not be included in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, the JBFA has set a target of a medal finish for the men’s in front of a home crowd. The IBSA’s tournament is considered to be the first step toward the addition of a women’s category in future Paralympic games.

Last summer, the JBFA joined six other associations to form the Japan Inclusive Football Federation, which oversees categories such as deaf, amputee, and powered chair football.