Canadians to battle for early Paralympic Games spots at goalball world championships

A top-three finish guarantees an early spot for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

OTTAWA – With the dust settled on the 2016 Paralympic Games, the Canadian men’s and women’s goalball teams have kept a veteran presence heading to the world championships, which get underway Sunday (June 3) in Malmo, Sweden.

A top-three finish in both the men’s and women’s tournament guarantees an early spot for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Goalball is a sport exclusive to athletes with visual impairments. Played in a gym court, the objective of the game is to throw the ball using a bowling motion into the opponent’s net while the opposing players try to block the ball with their bodies. The 1.25 kilogram ball has noise bells which help orientate the players.

The Canadian women have enjoyed international success in the past. They have earned three medals – one of each colour – since the first worlds in 1978. Their last podium performance was a bronze in 2010 and they won the world title in 2006.

There are three returnees from Rio on the women’s team: Whitney Bogart of Ottawa, Meghan Mahon of Timmins, Ont., and Nancy Morin of Longueuil, Que. They are joined by Emma Reinke of St. Thomas, Ont., Ruby Soliman of Lethbridge, Alta., and alternate Brieann Baldock of Edmonton.

‘’Our goal will be to finish in the top four or five,’’ said women’s head coach Trent Farebrother of Castor, Alta. ‘’It will be important for us to focus on defence first and not get too wrapped up in a fast pace. Just play our game.’’

The women’s team is in Group D with Paralympic Games silver and bronze medallists China and the U.S. At the Rio Games, the Canadians were eliminated by their North American rivals in the semifinals. There are 12 countries entered.

In the women’s round robin, Canada opens against Algeria on Sunday, and faces Greece on Monday, Brazil on Tuesday, and China and the U.S. on Wednesday. The quarterfinals are on Thursday and the semis and final on Friday.

‘’We can’t wait to get started,’’ said Bogart, a two-time Paralympian and the team captain. “We have had some training camps and it’s been great to play together again. We would love to get that Paralympic spot.’’ 

The men’s tournament is expected to be fierce. Canada’s head coach Nathalie Séguin says as many as 12 of the 16 countries, including Canada, can be considered top-six contenders.

On Canada’s team five of the six starters competed at the Rio Games. They are Brendan Gaulin of Laval, Que., Bruno Haché of Dorval, Que., Blair Nesbitt of Stony Plain, Alta., Doug Ripley of New Westminster, B.C., and Ahmad Zeividavi of Vancouver. The sixth member is Aron Ghebreyohanes of Calgary, a member of the 2015 Parapan Am Games squad.

Alternates are Peter Parsons of Halifax and 2012 Paralympian Simon Tremblay of Alma, Que.

‘’To have that many returnees really helps us with our game and communication strategies on the court,’’ said Séguin. ‘’We expect to make a progression from Rio and climb up the international rankings.’’

In the men’s round robin, Canada meets Germany and Japan on Sunday, Czech Republic on Monday, Iran and Brazil on Tuesday, the U.S. on Wednesday, and Egypt on Thursday. The quarterfinals are later Thursday and the semis and final Friday.

The Canadian men’s squad are in Group B with Paralympic Games bronze medallist Brazil. At the Games, Canada lost 5-4 to eventual champion Lithuania in the quarterfinals. They are looking for their first worlds medal since a bronze in 1982.

‘’We have great chemistry and we are learning off each other,’’ said Haché, a four-time Paralympian and the team captain. ‘’We need to have consistent performances and bring our strength to the table. We’ve gathered some great info on the other countries and if we can deliver on our game plan we’ll be all right.’’

For more information and live streaming visit the tournament’s official website: http://wcg18.se/