Women’s blind football – Wetterstrom on Sweden’s game
Date: September 1, 2021
Sweden’s emerging women’s blind football team has their plates full with big upcoming events over the next few years.
The country will host the Euro Challenge Cup in 2022, fielding a mixed team, and hopes to send a team to the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Blind Football Women’s World Championships in 2023 – the historic first edition.
Astrid Wetterstrom, one of Sweden’s goalkeepers and guides, is at the forefront of building women’s blind football in the country.
“The IBSA Euro Challenge Cup fits into our development strategy. We can now work together with other European developing countries in developing the game, not least for women,” Wetterstrom said.
“This is the first competitive step for us and we’re really looking forward to welcoming other development teams to Stockholm. As hosts, we’re hoping to put on a party”.
The event was pushed back due to COVID-19, but to Sweden, neither was this a surprise or an issue. Instead, the team used this time to continue training with different approaches: passive defense, each player having their own ball during training, running in the forest and bathing in an icy lake.
Blind football was introduced to the country in 2014 as an effort to save a local sports ground, Axelsbergs bollplan, which was threatened to be used for apartment buildings. Thanks to Mälarhöjdens IK (MIK) Football Club, the ground was saved and 5-a-side started. As part of a continuing ‘Football for All’ strategy, MIK now has five para-football teams: two for players with learning disabilities and three teams for the visually impaired, all of which are growing.
“We have a junior and adult 5-a-side team, both mixed, and a mixed National Development Squad. In October we’ll have our first major women’s training camp and we also have visually impaired trainings which we’ve just set-up,” Wetterstrom said.
“A real strength right now is a three-year development project we’re running thanks to the Swedish Inheritance Fund, Parasport Sweden and SRF Stockholm Gotland. The goal is to start three new teams around the whole country by June 2023. We also receive great support from Gålöstiftelsen and other foundations for our junior team, which has 16 players”.
The Euro Challenge Cup will be played for the first time on Scandinavian soil from 14-16 July next year. In Stockholm, Sweden will host Armenia, Austria, Portugal, Switzerland and one more team. As one of the nations to develop women’s blind football, Sweden looks to Japan, Mexico and Argentina for experience. Women’s blind football is also being developed in Africa, starting with Nigeria, and European countries like Austria are also moving ahead. Finland is just starting to develop a team, much to Sweden’s delight, as they work to build the game in Scandinavia together.
For their part Sweden are building interest and doing their best to engage both players and fans. They are optimistic about the future:
“The future’s bright and we’ll do our very best to engage as many players and fans as possible’, Wetterstrom concluded.
The 2022 Euro Challenge Cup will take place in Stockholm 14-16 July 2022 supported by UEFA. The first IBSA Blind Football Women’s World Championships will take place as part of the 2023 IBSA World Games in Birmingham, Great Britain – the world’s biggest gathering of athletes with visual impairments.
By Sarah S. Nasir | For IBSA