On a cloudy morning, a football ground at Kochi comes alive with some players in action. Among them is Panyawut Kupan, a player from Thailand. Soon, he takes the red and white striped ball and begins to play with it. And the scene is mesmerising. What made this performance so amazing is that the 24-year-old is blind. It’s his feeling and intuition that help him control the ball.
“I developed this skill by training for hundreds of hours. The ball has to remain stuck to your foot even when you move. Otherwise, you will lose control of it. So you have to develop a feel for the ball,” says Punyawat, who works as a travel guide with a firm back home.
Panyawut had come to Kochi in July, with Thailand’s national football team captain Kong, coaches Surin Sungsiri and Chaiyaporn Sanidwong, and Sports Association for the Blind of Thailand director Tim Suphankomut. “The aim was to give exposure to the team here and gain experience from them,” says Tim.
The sessions, spread over three days, went well, apart from a small accident one morning. During the training session, an Indian player hurt his forehead so badly that he started bleeding. He had banged his head against another player. But was back on the field after putting on a bandage.
“India is a newcomer to blind football, so the players may not have the skill level to compete at the highest level, but they have the heart,” says Panyawut, who was just six when he started losing his eyesight. He admits it has been a tough journey. “I remember how my mother would cry whenever we would go to the hospital. By the time I was 16, I was completely blind.”
It was then that he became eligible to play blind football. And today, he is the most famous blind footballer in Thailand. In the past two years, Punyawat has played five tournaments in Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia, and also took part in the Blind Football World Championships in Madrid in June, where he scored a goal in one of the matches.
Sunil Mathew, Head Coach, Indian National Blind Football Team, says, “The aim of holding a joint training session was to help develop the skills of the Indian team. We are ranked 29th
in the world, and we can do better together.”
Doing Their Bit
Founded in 2002, the Kochi-based Society for Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged (SRVC) set up a national blind football team in 2013. To boost blind football, SRVC Project Director MC Roy started the Indian Blind Football Federation last year, which has held national camps and championships. Aiming for the 2024 paralympics, the federation has just set up the first-ever Academy for Blind Football in Kochi.