Blind football in Mali
Written by Ili Hyseni
Photo c/o Catherine Cabrol
When I say I’m London based but my reach is global, I mean it. In an attempt to channel the spirit of the global game in a World Cup year, I’d like to bring you in on a story I’ve been sitting on for about a year now.
Late last year while in between jobs and scrolling through Instagram, I came across some photography by Catherine Cabrol; a French photographer who’s work spans decades and has captured many different people from all walks of life from gymnasts to rugby players. Among all the shots, which include ones of Spike Lee and Pedro Almodóvar, the one that caught my attention the most is the portrait you see above. Moussa is one of many visually impaired footballers who’s love for the game Catherine has captured. He forms part of a group of players from Bamako, Mali who have benefitted from the work done by French charity Libre Vue.
Catherine, who founded Libre Vue (which means free sight in French) started documenting ‘Cécifoot’ in 2011 by producing portraits of the blind and visually impaired players in Bamako. To provide added meaning to the body of work, Catherine launched the Blind Solidarity programme which has helped provide a football field for the players who attend the Institute for Young Blind.
Since 2011, Libre Vue has gone on to play a pivotal role in the development of blind football in Mali and is actively involved in changing perceptions around blind people in a country where stigma still remains. The charity has rolled out programmes that raise public awareness of the disability, provide mobility and learning assistance as well as using competition as a tool to help the footballers overcome their own limits.
In 2015 Libre Vue collaborated with the football authorities to select the first group of players that would represent Mali on the international stage. The project quickly became a success with the team participating at the IBSA World Cup in 2018 where they were the first Black African representatives in the competition and the African Cup a year later- a tournament in which they claimed silver as well as being crowned the competition’s top scorers.
One of the players that has been key in the rise of Mali’s blind team is Bandiougou Traoré. 28 year old Bandiougou who plays as a forward for his country was born and raised in Mali. Having initially moved to France for his university studies, he stayed in the country to take up work as a coder and web developer. I started the interview, conducted over WhatsApp, by asking him a couple of general football related questions to get to know him a bit better.
Which team do you support and why?
I support Mali, my country but also because I play for the team. In club football Liverpool is the team I like the most. I have supported Liverpool for 15 years now since I was younger because they’re a famous club and things are really special there. Whether they’re good or bad, they still have this emotion so that’s why I like LFC. I also like an African club in Mali, my first team, Stade Malien de Bamako. The first club I knew and the one I love alongside Liverpool.
Which players inspire you?
I would say no player specifically, I can like how they play or how they handle themselves in their daily life but they do not really inspire me. For inspiration I take the best from a lot of players and I try to figure out what I can do to improve my own playing level.
Tell us a little about the football culture in Mali.
Football in Mali is not really professional yet but people, young people really like it. Young people they go and play on the weekend with friends. It’s about social inclusion, it’s something really important because people take pleasure in playing football and having fun. However the coaches are not really professional so people mostly play for pleasure.
Tell us about your involvement in the team.
I go back to Mali when I have time to take part in competition with my teammates.
What challenges do you have as a blind footballer?
The challenge is to be professional. That is the challenge here in France and the world. We are not professional we are amateur but we are at a high level. If I can make a living from blind football that would be the best thing for me, but I don’t think I’m going to make this challenge.
Which conditions need to improve?
The thing that needs to improve most in blind football is the media coverage. We are not really supported by brands, by people in society. So the thing to improve is to have more media coverage and that blind football should be more media focussed.
Tell us about Mali’s blind football team.
We have been together for a long time, since we were very very young at school so we really know each other well and have spent good times together. The mood is very good within our team and we are very ambitious but we don’t have the means to achieve our goals, that is the basic problem.
What are your hopes for the future of blind football in Mali?
The hope is to have more support for our cause because we really have to fight to have financial support to take part in competition. So I really hope that one day it will be easier for players in Mali to live off of blind football because life in Mali is really different and blind people usually don’t really have money and they are poor. So I hope one day blind football becomes professional so that my fellow players will live from football. I hope that after each competition it will get easier financially.