At World Cup arenas, blind fans listen to the action

At World Cup arenas, blind fans listen to the action

RIO DE JANEIRO - Two commentators sat in a broadcast booth at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium, put on their mics and looked down at the pitch before narrating a World Cup game for an exclusive audience.

As the teams arrived, they began giving detailed descriptions to a group of people sitting in the stands. All were blind and visually-impaired fans listening through short-range radio signals on their smartphones.

For the first time in a World Cup, the sport's governing body, FIFA, set up the special audio system at stadiums with the assistance of Urece, a Brazilian non-governmental group that provides services to the blind.

"You must accurately describe everything: The atmosphere in the stands, the physical appearance of the players, their kits, the colors, the images broadcast on giant screens," said commentator Eduardo Butter, a 23-year-old journalist.

Some 6.5 million people are visually impaired in the country of 200 million, and many share Brazil's passion for football, attending club games with relatives or guides who describe the action.

The audio system was successfully tested during the Euro 2012 championship co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, and there are plans to offer the service at Brazilian domestic league games, said project coordinator Mauana Simas.

Better than radio

A handful of blind and visually-impaired fans put on earphones during Friday's quarter-final match between France and Germany, sitting in the front row behind a goal and listening to every word as the crowd chanted and roared around them.

"It's really better than the radio, where there are a lot of commercials and commentators scream 'gooooooooal!' for a long time without describing what's going on," said Ali Herrera da Silva, 30, who was born blind and gained 20 per cent vision after eye surgery as a child.

The special commentators "give us precious details such as the colour of the players' shoes, their numbers, their facial expressions, their attitude," said Silva, a tall administrative assistant who plays Goalball, a sport for the blind, and wore Brazil's canary-yellow jersey to the quarter-final.

Butter said commentating a goal takes special care.

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