Health academic heads to the Paralympics
Published: 18 August 2021
Robert Avery, Senior Lecturer in Health Sciences at York St John University, is jetting off to Tokyo this week to referee goalball matches in one of the biggest sporting events in the world. His selection for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics comes after more than a decade of working with the sport.
Goalball is an indoor, 3-aside team sport that was originally devised in 1946 to help rehabilitate soldiers who had lost their sight during the war. It has been played throughout the world ever since, at the highest level, by people who are blind or partially sighted. The ball is the size of a basketball and contains bells. Players wear eyeshades and track it with their hearing.
Since gaining his goalball refereeing qualification in 2012, Robert has overseen scores of domestic and international tournaments. He says this opportunity is unique, but he’s learned to cope with the pressure:
“I only initially did the referees course so that I could better understand the Goalball rules. So to get this far from that humble start feels very surreal I have to say.
“My first foray into international refereeing was in 2014 and I was a nervous wreck. Suddenly you're thrust into this world where this is very serious competition and there's much more pressure than I was used to. I have to calm myself down a bit and tell myself that all I was really doing was blowing my whistle in a sports hall and refereeing the game. I've just got to do the best I can, that’s all I can ever do.”
The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics begin on Tuesday 24 August 2021 – a fortnight after the Olympics have finished and a full year after they were due to get underway.
Robert flies out on Sunday and says it will be a different experience this year:
“Tokyo has obviously been a long time coming and the build-up is huge. I’m both excited and nervous and there’s a lot to get done before I can even travel, Covid testing and so forth.
"Usually, you’d be able to watch other events but at the moment it looks like I'll referee the games and the rest of the time I'll be in the hotel watching it on TV like everybody else.
“So yes, it's going to be slightly different to what I would have anticipated but it will still be an incredible opportunity and experience.”
There is no GB squad at Tokyo 2020 but Goalball UK are still aiming for the Paralympics, hoping to field two teams at Paris 2024.