Sato’s decade at the top of Japanese blind football
Date: May 18, 2020
Much is rightly spoken about the talents of blind footballers, as they skilfully weave their way past their opposition with impressive footwork before finding exactly the right time to shoot with pinpoint accuracy, using only their instincts and the sound of the ball.
But very little is said about the sighted goalkeepers who are also a key part of the success of any team.
Japan’s Daisuke Sato is just one of just a handful of sighted goalies who compete at the highest level alongside their blind teammates.
Sato has played for the Japanese blind football team for the last 10 years. In 2021 he will be part of the team that takes on the world at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
His passion for the game is one which will be familiar to most.
“I’ve been into football all my life. The first time I played football was at my kindergarten gym class starting with just running around and kicking the ball for fun,” he said.
However Sato only happened across blind football by chance. What came next would change his life.
“I got to know blind football from a TV programme when I was a college student. Then, I wanted to become a goalkeeper again and joined a local blind football team. I did not know anything about blind football, even the rules, when I first started playing.”
Around three years into his national career, Tokyo were awarded the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. With blind football still relatively unknown in Japan, this was a chance for Sato and his team to make an impact.
In the years since the country have gone from strength-to-strength. As well as improving their performance the Japan Blind Football Association have also been responsible for bringing the sport to Japan before the Paralympics. Since 2018 an IBSA Blind Football World Grand Prix has been hosted in Tokyo and has attracted the world’s best teams as well as thousands of new fans.
As the hosts Japan’s hard work will pay off when they get to play on the biggest stage of them all.
“The strong motivation to play at Tokyo Paralympics with my team has helped me continue playing for such a long time,” Sato said. “Playing at the Tokyo Paralympics means to me returning the favour to those who have supported me.
“I’ve grown up so much after several bittersweet experiences in the past 10 years where I learned the importance of respecting and building communication links with my teammates regardless of having a disability or not, and continuing to make efforts for one mutual goal.”
The Paralympics will be the end of a long road for Sato and the rest of the team. But they are not just there to make up the numbers – they will play to win.
“The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics means to me the best moment to show the world what we’ve practiced for such a long time to win the games. I am so excited to compete against such strong teams from all around the world, luckily in such an advantageous environment of our home country.
“My teammates are so happy to host the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and are so thrilled to make our debut out there.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will take place from 24 August – 5 September 2021.
Argentina, defending champions Brazil, China, France, Japan, Morocco, Spain and Thailand will all go for gold.
Picture credit: ©JBFA/H.Wanibe