Tokyo Paralympics: Women’s blind football missing at the 2020 Games

Tomonari Kuroda of Tama Hassas and Sora Kikushima of Saitama T. Wings.
Sora Kikushima (right) of Saitama T. Wings in action during the 16th AXA Brave Cup Blind Soccer All-Japan Championship Final against Tama Hassas on July 23, 2017 at Aminovital field in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by IMAGO / AFLOSPORT)

Women have never competed in any football category at the Summer Paralympics. Between 5-a-side and 7-a-side, blind football at the Paralympic Games has exclusively only involved men.

It’s not necessarily the fault of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Ultimately, it comes down to each country establishing their own national teams for each sport.

At this time, there are not enough women’s teams worldwide to warrant participation at the Paralympic Games. However, change is on the horizon for women’s blind football.

While the sport will not feature at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, there is hope that the sport will eventually make its way to the Paralympic stage. In fact, the actions of the current Games’ host country are very promising.

A leader in women’s blind football

Japan is one of the most influential teams when it comes to women’s blind football. They’ve been a dominant leader of the sport since their championship win at the inaugural IBSA Women’s Blind Football Tournament in 2017.

In 2018 and 2019, the Japan Blind Football Association (JBFA) hosted a women’s blind football competition at the Saitama City Normalization Cup. Japan came out victorious in both iterations of the competition, solidifying their command of the sport.

While Japan reigns supreme, they are also taking responsibility to develop the sport for other countries. Prior to the 2019 Normalization Cup competition, the JBFA organized a two-day training camp for visually impaired athletes from around the world.

By welcoming these players, the JBFA has set an example for the sport. With that has come the creation of other national teams around the world.

Through their efforts, the JBFA is also inspiring future stars of the game. One such player is 19-year-old Sora Kikushima, who has been a part of the Japan national women’s team since its inception in 2017.

While Sora plays for a club side comprised primarily of male players, her ultimate goal belongs with the national team.

“At the 2020 Paralympics, only boys are the official event, but my dream is to go to the Paralympics! If you have a chance, this is a place you definitely want to aim for,” said the Saitama T. Wings striker in an interview with ParaSpo+.

The first generation awaits patiently

Following Japan’s success, various other national teams are cropping up across the world. Argentina was the first to follow in Japan’s footsteps, while just last year Austria became the first European national team followed by France this past June.

The next most important milestone for women’s blind football is the upcoming IBSA Blind Women’s World Championships. The first World Championships for women was originally scheduled to take place this November in Enugu, Nigeria. However, the competition will now take place at the 2023 IBSA World Games in Birmingham, England.

“We are so grateful to the Bina Foundation who have done everything in their power to ensure the first women’s World Championships would be a memorable one,” said Ulrich Pfisterer, Chair of the IBSA Blind Football Committee. “We are however very excited that the 2023 IBSA World Games – the world’s biggest gathering of athletes with visual impairments – will play host instead. Enugu and Nigeria will still play a key role in the development of the women’s game in the coming years.”

Like the Women’s World Championships, many planned events have been delayed or canceled due to the pandemic. Regardless, there is strength in numbers for women’s blind football.

Now more than ever, there is a clear path forward for the sport. Eventually this path will lead to the Summer Paralympic Games.

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