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Ten visually challenged players from India are taking part in the Thailand Open Football 5-A-Side (B1) Tournament 2013 in Bangkok, which started on Tuesday and will run till 22 August.

Organized by the Sports Association for the Blind of Thailand, six teams from Thailand, Hong Kong, Iran, Malaysia, Russia and India are participating in the event. It is a B1 category tournament and according to international rules, each team consists of five players—four outfielders who must be completely blind or blindfolded (B1 category) and a goalkeeper who may be partially blind. Unlike the usual soccer ball, the ball used by the visually impaired is smaller and jingles in motion.

The 10 players sent by the Indian Blind Sports Association (IBSA) are Ankur Dhama, Mohammed Israfil, Mohammed Saleem, Vineet Kumar, Krishna Kumar Yadav (from Delhi); T.N Naufal and M.S. Ranjit (Kerala); and Gautam Dey, Abhijit Mondal and Goutam Kumar Bind (West Bengal). They communicate with each other in Hindi and broken English.

“We will give our best and see if we can win the trophy," says Dhama, who has been blind since birth. This is the first time an Indian team will participate in an international football event.

Dhama, who has the national record of clocking 1.01 minutes in 400m sprint—the fastest by a visually-impaired Indian—says they had little time to practise and till last week, they were not even sure whether they would be able to participate due to lack of funds.

“We were very unsure until AirAsia came forward to bear the flight expenses of the team players," says A. David, director-football, IBSA, Delhi, the national sports body for the blind. Adidas is sponsoring the sports kit, which includes jerseys and shoes, while the Noida-based Sopra group has given 1.25 lakh.

P.C. Mehta, general secretary, IBSA, says the association has got no support from the government, the Sports Authority of India or big corporate houses other than ONGC. Airtel provided funds to the association a few years ago and we have written to Hindustan Unilever, ITC, he adds. The firms don’t get any mileage by sponsoring blind events, he explains.

The 10 players say they will give their best to win the trophy and help create awareness among underprivileged parents to encourage their visually-challenged children to take up sports.

“Although visually-impaired football was being played in Delhi and certain other parts of the country, our initiative is first to take roots in south India three years ago," says Sunil Mathew, the secretary of Society for Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged, Kochi.

“As I was playing football (three years ago), a blind student who was standing next to me kicked the ball straight at a wall where we were practising which made me take up this initiative seriously," Mathew adds.

Watching David Beckham playing soccer blind-folded on YouTube helped me understand the game better, it needs a lot of coordination among players, says Mathew. The former England captain kicked off the London 2012 Paralympic Games, joining visually-impaired captain David Clarke of Great Britain in a specially-arranged training session in London.

“I’ve been playing football all my life, but I was really out of my comfort zone," says Beckham in his blog. “And as parents blessed with four healthy children, Victoria and I are humbled by the strength and energy of mums and dads who encourage their disabled children to take up sports."

“Unlike other countries where we see a large number of visually impaired people in buses or trains, we don’t see many in our country because neither public places nor public transport take into consideration the special needs of these people, imagine the difficulties they go through," says Shriya Saran, actor of Rajinikanth-starrer Sivaji. She wished the team luck.

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