Volunteer audio casters train to take WC to visually impaired fans

  • AFP, Sao Paulo
  • Updated: May 31, 2014 01:50 IST

The emotion is audible in Andre's voice as he describes Sao Paulo's second goal, but his words are also restrained — there's no time for flowery prose.

Andre, a 26-year-old clerk, is in training to describe football matches for visually impaired fans who attend the World Cup.

By the time the tournament kicks off here on June 12, he must be able to paint a picture with his voice — what's happening, where the players are, what a stadium looks like when it explodes into celebration.

If he's doing it right, listener Fabricio should be able to decide for himself if Sao Paulo's equalizer against Coritiba was as beautiful as everyone says.

Fabricio is a 29-year-old economist who has been visually impaired since birth. He loves football and never misses hearing his team, Palmeiras, on the radio. His face lights up when he talks about the only time he went to the stadium to feel what one of their matches was like.

"I love coming to the stadium, but it's not easy. I usually listen to the matches on the radio, but I get anxious when the announcers shout out that never-ending 'Gooooooooooooooalllll,' because I miss a lot," he said.

Fabricio is in Sao Paulo's Pacaembu Stadium today to change that. He is helping calibrate the lenses, as it were, of Andre and the other volunteers who will be the eyes of visually impaired fans at the World Cup.

FIFA is offering commentary for the blind via short-range radio frequency in four — Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte — of the 12 host stadiums.

The descriptions will be provided by Andre and 15 other volunteers broadcasting from the stadium press boxes in teams of two per match.

The Sao Paulo-Coritiba match is their exam. They are nearing the end of a road that began when URECE, a Brazilian association for the visually impaired, launched a search for volunteer commentators, receiving more than four applications for every slot available.

The project aims to ensure no one is excluded from Brazil's world-famous passion for football.

"Football in Brazil is a culture, and the visually impaired also need to have the option to live it in order to be part of it," said Gabriel Mayr, project coordinator at URECE.

Eyes closed

There are 6.5 million visually impaired people in Brazil, according to official figures. Like the rest of the country, many of them would relish the chance to attend the World Cup.

Austrian sportswriter Martin Zwischenberger, the man training the volunteer audio casters, got a glimpse of that fact a decade ago.

He was at a museum in Vienna that offered visitors the chance to experience an exhibit as a blind person would. Blind guides led museum-goers on tours, describing every aspect of the exhibit, including those a person with eyesight would consider redundant.

Zwischenberger was so moved by the experience he decided to bring a group of 50 blind people to "watch" a football match, which he described for them.

The experience launched him on a quest to create a new language to narrate football for those who can't see but can feel it. He ended up joining the Centre for Access to Football in Europe, the organisation that sent him to Brazil to train Andre and his fellow volunteers.

"This project has brought me enormous satisfaction," he said. There have been funny moments as well as moving ones.

"During the 2012 European Championships, a group of 20 blind fans who were following the audio description were the first people to stand up and cheer at a goal. They didn't hear the people around them celebrate for a few seconds, and at first they thought we had made a mistake," he remembered with a laugh.

When the game ends, Fabricio takes off his headphones, grabs his cane and walks to the broadcast booth. The volunteers are nervously awaiting his feedback.

"I enjoyed the experience. I felt much more inside the game," he says.

Zwischenberger is happy. The volunteers have learned to paint the game in words. And Fabricio concurs: Ademilson's goal was a beauty.

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