Enough of the screaming roars of London 2012 crowds. All is silent and reverential at the Copper Box in Stratford’s Olympic Park.
The venue for Olympic handball is now hosting goalball, played by blind Paralympians or those with partial sight.
Blindfolded to ensure all players have equal (dis)ability, the three players on each side defend a goal 1.3m high and 9m wide.
Goals are scored by rolling the ball at high speeds of up to 60kms an hour. Players defending their goals prostrate themselves across the court to prevent shots going into their net.
All of which requires silence from the crowd so that the players can hear the ball charging towards them.
“Please, everybody, be quiet!” the PA announces. “These athletes have trained for a long time and deserve your attention.” Mobile phones must be switched off. A snatch of a lullaby, followed by a “shush!” precedes the commencement of play.
The Copper Box venue, known during the Olympics as “the box that rocks”, risks becoming during the Paralympics “the box that rocks you to sleep”.
Suitably chastised, the crowd sits obediently, though presumably this is is somewhat frustrating for spectators who would really like to roar their approval. Frankly, none of them have spent hours on the internet applying for Paralympic tickets just to end up as spectators in a grass-growing competition.
So step forward Mostafa Shahbazi Yajlou, the middle-stopper in Iran’s team. Yajlou is not the retiring, reserved type. Think John Terry in a permanent state of agitation.
Each time Iran scored in their preliminary round match against China, he whirled him arms joyously, rousing the crowd to clap and cheer, ran on the spot, did exercises, rolled somersaults, hugged his team-mates and generally expressed himself through perpetual moment.
When saving a shot, sometimes in an area of especial male anatomical sensitivity, he would offer a dismissive “Thank you!” to his opponents for allowing him to make the save.
Ever the crowd-pleaser, Yajlou picked up the beat of The Jam’s London’s Calling – played during breaks in action – to galvanise the crowd into rhythmic clapping.
“It’s important for me personally [to motivate the crowd],” Yajlou said after Iran’s 9-5 victory.
In the next match, Korea and Algeria played out a respectful encounter, which lacked the cut and thrust generated byIran and China. Goalball will need Iran and its excitable Mostafa Shahbazi Yajlou to keep the crowds from nodding off in the Copper Box as the tournament progresses.