World Cup action for the blind

Bongani Nkosi

Blind people are also enjoying the
World Cup. (Image: Ndaba Dlamini, Joburg)

SANCB has been praised for its efforts.
(Image: SANCB)

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Blind and partially sighted South Africans now have the opportunity to follow the 2010 Fifa World Cup action like almost every other spectator, thanks to new technology funded by Fifa and initiated by the Swiss National Association for the Blind.

Run by the South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB), the Audio Description Project is providing special sound broadcasts of 44 matches in six of the 10 host stadiums – specifically for the blind and partially sighted.

Specially trained commentators are used in the stadiums to describe the action as it happens, ensuring that the blind and partially sighted fans also enjoy the vibrant vuvuzela-dominated atmosphere.

The broadcasts differ from traditional television and radio sports commentaries because they chiefly focus on the movements of the ball, according to the SANCB. The broadcaster “reads the game very fast and is able to comment on all aspects in detail”, the organisation said.

The Institute of Advancement of Journalism trained the broadcasters and students from the Academy of Sound Engineering are responsible for maintaining the technical audio systems.

Jace Nair, national executive director of the SANCB, who is also blind, has been at two of the specially broadcast matches at Johannesburg’s Soccer City. “I attended the opening match and the one between the Netherlands and Denmark. I was just enthralled by the live audio broadcasts,” he said.

Johannesburg’s two venues, Soccer City and Ellis Park, provide audio facilities for all their matches, and so does Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth and Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.

Each of the six stadiums has special centres to accommodate the blind and partially sighted. In these centres 15 seats are fitted with Sony hi-tech headphones for the special audio broadcasts, and another 15 seats are reserved for sighted guides. Nair said the headphones provide an exciting atmosphere, enabling one to “still hear the sound of the vuvuzela in the background”.

SANCB was responsible for the application process of the special tickets, which went for R140 (US$18). Tickets for the guides were free. All in all, 660 special tickets were set aside for the project and distributed through Fifa.

The initiative has been very well received and all such tickets have sold. “We received applications from all over the country,” said Nair.

SANCB praised 

Some of the spectators who have attended the specially broadcast matches have even sent letters of praise to SANCB. “We’ve had a phenomenal response from visually impaired people who have attended the matches,” Nair said. “We’ve found the project very beneficial.”

Thomas Ka-Simelane, who has been to seven matches, enjoyed being in the stadium with other football fanatics. “The feeling of being in the stadium with all the other people matters greatly …”

Ridhwaan Mayet also loved being part of the crowd: “When the goal was scored the crowd erupted simultaneously. It was fantastic to be part of the cheering and excitement.”

Pasha Alden wrote: “”As you would know, a blind person often hears about a goal or an event when it has already taken place and half the cheer is over.

“One of the greatest joys for me was cheering simultaneously with the crowds when a goal was scored, without the forced delay brought on by a companion or friend, not trained in audio description, doing their best to relay as much as possible of what transpired.”

Francois Jacobs wrote that the fast-paced commentary allowed him to follow the match more accurately. “The fact that there was no time delay in the commentary made … me feel comfortable with responding to events on the field without holding back.”

Leaving a legacy

With the Audio Description Project being the first of its kind to be run at sport venues around the country, the SANCB is hoping that it will leave a legacy after the World Cup to benefit the estimated 500 000 blind and partially sighted South Africans.

The organisation is currently involved in talks with national sport bodies, including the South African Football Association, to get other tournaments to offer a similar service, Nair said.

“We’d like to see a legacy from this,” he said. “We’d like to extend it to all the other sporting codes, like cricket and matches of the Premier Soccer League, and introduce it to venues like theatres and cinemas.”