He is not afraid of contact, it is even rather « a pleasure to feel it with the other players, to discover another sport ». Arnaud, 36, is visually impaired from birth. This Paralympic vice-champion of blind football in London in 2012 tried this Thursday at another sport, blind rugby, during training on the grounds of the Stade Toulousain.
A discipline which did not exist until now in France and which has just been born in the land of Oval on a somewhat crazy idea, driven in particular by Olivier Chabot, educator at the Institute for young blind people in Toulouse and, moreover , educator at Toulouse Montaudran Rugby. Over discussions and meetings, the idea to germinate, with only one prerequisite: security. But several common threads, in particular that of inclusion. Because on the ground, enclosed by an inflatable structure, the visually impaired and the sighted are on an equal footing: all wear the same mask and are guided only by the beep of the ball or the voice of a teammate.
« The philosophy was not to adapt rugby to make it accessible, but to create a new practice, with new rules, while keeping the basics: an oval ball, we make passes, we advance, we flattens, » explains Olivier Chabot, who experienced the first steps in this new discipline on the women’s team that trains him at his club. Since then, other training sessions and matches have taken place in mixed teams, sighted-blind and women-men.
« During the debrief, at the end of these matches, we realized that for young blind people it was a huge consideration to manage to have a collective combat sport, where we don’t just cross paths but we meets. We also realized that putting the indicator lights in the dark, on a rugby pitch where you have a « boar » that can hit you at any time, allows you to quickly have a look at this difference and on what it is to be visually impaired », explains Philippe Laurent, League technical advisor to the French Rugby Federation who was asked by one of the junior coaches of the Stade Toulousain to develop their acuity and perception.
A sound balloon created from scratch
For cécirugby to work and be accessible to everyone, a solution had to be found so that all players could follow the ball. After several sleepless nights thinking, and after securing the services of a Toulouse start-up, they managed to get it to beep. They unstitched a ball, then placed inside a shell that matches the shape of the valve in which were placed sensors, an action charge and the desired sounds.
Today, there are two copies of this prototype. They will be used in the future for demonstrations, but also in clubs. “Soon, five clubs will open a rugby-health section to which we will offer this blind rugby offer. And during festivals, we will hold events and tournaments”, specifies Philippe Laurent.
This new discipline will also have educational values. The department of Haute-Garonne, manager of the colleges, has decided to use it in its establishments. “If we want to change mentalities, it has to go through the children, that’s why we want to develop specific actions with them. The challenge of this experiment is to promote inclusion, but sport is a vector of inclusion », insists Alain Gabrieli, vice-president of the departmental council in charge of disabled people, partner of this operation in the same way as organization of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.