Young boy holds a ball made for blind children
Young children without sight can use these specially made balls to play with other children.

Elias Mastoras couldn’t believe that he hadn’t seen the need to help young children who are blind play soccer.

For years, Mastoras has helped make blind soccer popular across the world. Mastoras, a youth soccer trainer, became a referee for adult blind soccer games in 1999. He worked as a Paralympics referee in 2004 during the sport’s Paralympic debut in Greece, his home country and in 2016, he became the global referee coordinator for the Paralympic Games in Brazil. He’s seen how much joy players get out of the game and how much fire they bring.

But one day, when giving a blind soccer ball to a three-year-old child, Mastoras realized that the ball would be far too heavy for him. The ball used in blind soccer is bulkier than a normal soccer ball, weighing more than a pound due to the steel ball bearings inside. The bearings rattle as the ball moves so that blind soccer players can locate the ball by ear. But the added bulk of the ball made it hard for young children to play with, Mastoras realized.

A group of children play with specially made soccer balls.
A group of children try out a game of blind soccer. Photo courtesy of Catherine Cabrol.

This was a heartbreaking realization for Mastoras. Children who are blind are often left out of play in school since they can’t see a traditional ball, and they are typically the only child without sight in their schools. So, they’re left to listen on as other children play.

“I always say to my trainees, ‘Think outside of the box,’” Mastoras says. “But it took me 20 years to realize that there’s a need to have a light-weight sound ball that young children could put in their bag, take to school, and play with everybody.”

Mastoras knew that he had to do something. In 2017 he created a mini-sound ball, one that rattles just like the official blind soccer ball but is light enough for a 2-year-old.

Mastoras created the A Ball for All campaign, which is promoted by Youthorama, his nonprofit located in Greece. So far, A Ball for All has given out between 3,500 and 4,500 balls. The balls can only be donated and are never for sale. The ball comes with a package, including a DVD and manual (which also comes in braille) for how to play other games with the ball. In return, Mastoras asks recipients to send back pictures to confirm that they received their package.

So far, he’s received pictures back from 142 countries, some of which he didn’t know existed. Often, photos are of young children who have taken the ball with them to bed, falling asleep with it cradled in their arms.


The most powerful experience as a Lion

Panos Sinodinos, a Lion who belongs to Greek club Thessaloniki Heraklea, met Mastoras in 2019 during a common service activity. During the activity, people were blindfolded and led around by guide dogs to experience what it was like to be blind. Mastoras brought the mini sound balls to the event. Sinodinos, his blindfold removed, was immediately taken by the idea of giving such a ball to children.

A boy with special needs receives a ball from a Lion.
Bannerslund Frederikshavn Lions Club in Denmark presented a ball to a 14-year-old Mads, who was born blind.

Sinodinos put together a plan and pitched the idea to his club. It worked. They ordered 30 balls, a Lions logo printed on each, and then offered them up to Lions around the world through social media. So far, his club has sent balls to Lions in 10 countries, including Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and Denmark.

Bannerslund Frederikshavn Lions Club in Denmark presented a ball to a 14-year-old boy named Mads who was born blind. Bannerslund Lion Kurt Mette says that it was a great pleasure to see the effect the ball had on the boy.

“Mads was immediately on the floor with his mother, Pia, and the ball was kicked,” Mette says. “Mads said that he would have to take the ball to school the following Monday and play ball with his seeing friends. It’s a small ball, but a big joy.”

Mad’s parents, Pia and Lars, say that the ball has made a big difference for their family. Over the years Mads has had many surgeries on his face and eyes, enduring more pain than any child should have to face. But the ball brings him joy. Mads brings it everywhere. “He often brings it to school and daycare and loves playing with his friends there,” his parents say.

Thessaloniki Heraklea Lions also donated balls to local children in Greece. Sinodinos was touched when they received big, excited hugs from one particular child. “We believe in this project,” he says. “It really inspires us. This is the strength of our organization, in my opinion. We take something small and we make it even bigger.”


A ball for the entire world

A girl holds a ball specially made for childen who are blind.
Having a ball that they can hear, and is light-weight, means children who are blind can participate in sports at a young age.

These moments of joy, happening across the world, are why Sinodinos feels that the A Ball for All campaign has been his most powerful experience as a Lion. He’s never seen a project that has such great impact from such a small donation. In 2021, Sinodinos said that his club will host the Europa Forum and will push to get enough donations to donate the ball across the world, to further spread the joy it brings.

“This is such a small act of kindness, but you offer so much joy that even if you could donate thousands of dollars, this joy is much bigger,” Sinodinos says. “And it’s only the start. In the near future, we will probably be able to donate hundreds or even thousands of these balls. This is the huge impact that LCI can offer to our world.”

Lions have enabled Mastoras to reach beyond his network, and many, like Sinodinos, have taken the project on as if it were their own.

“We know about [Lions’] commitment,” Mastoras says. “We know that they will take the ball into their local community and will make an impact.”

Mastoras’s goal is to donate the ball to someone in every country across the world by the end of 2021, but he also has a larger goal. He wants to help create a more inclusive society, one where all children, sighted or blind, are included in play.