Mexican football player with visual impairment finds new future in sport

Hugo Enrique Campos López (center) moderates a training session with players Josué Pensado Rojas (left) and José Manuel Flores Ramírez. The two players, who are visually impaired, play rock, paper, scissors to decide who will kick the session off. (Mayela Sánchez, GPJ Mexico)

By Mayela Sánchez, Senior Reporter

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — The football match in downtown Mexico City starts like any other – with the sharp blast of a whistle. But what happens next is far from usual.

Goalkeepers run their fingers along the top of their goal posts to assess the dimensions as the other players, some with masks covering their eyes, speed after the ball, which rattles as it rolls across the pitch. Several run with their arms in the air to avoid crashing.

A player shouts, “Goalie!” to warn the keeper he’s about to make an attempt on the goal. “Here, here!” the goalkeeper shouts back. Guided only by sounds, the player calculates his shot and kicks the rattling ball towards the back of the net.

This is how they play in the Mexico City Independent Football League for People with Visual Disabilities, an amateur male football tournament. Each team consists of six players, comprising a goalie, who must be blind or wear a mask, and either four blind players and one fully sighted player, or three blind players and a further two with low vision. The players with low vision and those with full sight, known as “seers,” are only allowed to try for a goal after a fully blind player has already scored.

Alejandro Morales Fuentes, 47, a player in the Mexico City Independent Football League for People with Visual Disabilities, pushes the plastic ball they play with back into shape. In this adapted form of the world game, players are guided by the rattling of the ball as it moves around the pitch. (Mayela Sánchez, GPJ Mexico.)

There are currently about 50 players in the competition, says Sergio Soto, president of the league. The league itself dates back to 1967, when students at a local school for people who are blind began to play adapted football there.

Hugo Enrique Campos López, 24, is one of the youngest players in the competition. He plays for Barcelona, a team named for the world-famous Spanish football franchise, which has been renamed América, after one of Mexico’s well-known clubs. His movements on the field are agile and his skill with the ball is notable. He has an advantage over the rest, not just because he is only partially blind, but also because he has played football since he was a child.

Campos López wanted to be a professional football player, but while exercising at home in April 2015, a resistance band snapped back and hit him in the face, detaching the cornea and retina of his right eye. After the accident, he says, he could not find a conventional football team that would accept him. So now, he’s getting used to playing the adapted form of the game.

“When I play football for the blind, it’s like you’re in the dark,” he says. “I imagine colorful lines in my mind. For example, if someone comes, I imagine a line that I’m going to go around, like it’s a tree and I am going to get around.”

Players from team Barcelona, now known as team América, walk towards the stands at the end of their match. Sighted or partially sighted players help players who are totally blind reach the exit by offering their shoulders as a guide. (Photo by Mayela Sánchez, GPJ Mexico)

This article was originally published at Global Press Journal, which includes a video and more photos.