For Thomas Simelane, a visually impaired football fan from Johannesburg, going to matches will never be the same again thanks to a new innovation that brings an extra dimension to the stadium experience at this FIFA World Cup™.
The initiative, launched by the Swiss National Association for the Blind (SNAB) and South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB) and financially supported by FIFA, is aimed at making the tournament more accessible to all. FIFA partner Sony provides the necessary transmitters that allows the visually impaired to receive match commentary in the stadiums free of charge. Six venues have been equipped with 15 seats with headphones to hear specially trained commentators report live on the action.
"The experience is absolutely fantastic," said Simelane. "Before I would just come here and the only thing I would hear is the noise of the vuvuzela, sometimes it was a bit annoying to hear people celebrating when you don't know what they are celebrating. Even when someone eventually tells you, you would feel a bit left out because you are there, but you are not really there.
"Thanks to the commentary, I can now relate to what is happening on the pitch even though I cannot see what is happening," he added. "This is brilliant, it makes the experience more pleasant and enjoyable. The commentary is done blow-by-blow and is different from your regular TV or radio commentary. It is more detailed – focuses on giving the finer details of not only the ambience, but the whereabouts of the ball, off-the-ball movement and detailed description of player movements."
Aubrey Webson is another fan who is benefiting from this initiative. Like Simelane, he has been to many football matches before, but is thrilled by this initiative. "I have been to four games already at this World Cup where they offer this special commentary and I can tell you that it's absolutely unbelievable. It's given us an experience we can never forget in our lives. The commentary has been good, it's important because I now feel closer to the game and to my heroes like [Didier] Drogba, Kaka and Robinho," he said.
At Sunday's Brazil-Côte d’Ivoire match, FIFA.com saw what it meant to another beneficiary at first hand. As Brazil opened their account through Luis Fabiano, Zaheed Saloohe jumped up to celebrate. "That was a great goal," she said, unable to contain her excitement. "From what I heard [from the commentary], that was brilliant. Of course I'm supporting Brazil and I'm excited that my favourite player, Kaka, is the one who created the goal. The good thing is, now I can watch the game without bothering my husband every ten seconds. Throughout, he is the one who had the task of describing special moments in a match or a goal to me. At times, this means he misses out on the match while trying to explain things to me."
One of the commentators, Jacob Kamodi from Johannesburg, has learned the necessary techniques to perform this special art of commentary. Although he has done commentary for some community radio stations before, he admits that this is "different, more exciting and challenging". His job is to draw a mental picture for people who cannot see the action even if they are only a few metres away from the touchline.
"It's exciting for me because this is a new project altogether," Kamodi said. "Of course the fact that we are doing this at a FIFA World Cup makes it more exciting. It has taught me so much about commentary. The biggest challenge is to make sure that you do not forget who is your audience and their special needs, I think that keeps you on your toes. Even though I have done some commentating before, this is completely different."