Deaf Sports Events13th October 2013

An introduction to the Deaflympics

A brief look at the history of the Deaflympics and the upcoming 2013 Games

by Sarah Lawrencee

FansCreated in 1924 and run every four years since, the Summer Deaflympics are due to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria between July 26th and August 4th, 2013. Described as the Silent Games when it was first launched, organisers have done a fantastic job in keeping the Games going ever since.

Attracting significantly less attention from the media, sponsors, and advertisers, than the Olympic and Paralymic Games, the Deaflympics are often thought of as a minor event. They were the first ever International sporting event for athletes with a disability, pre-dating the Paralympic Games by 24 years. By the time the Paralympics were born, plans were well in place for the introduction of the Winter Deaflympics. 

When the Summer Games were held in Chinese Tapei in 2009, the Games attracted 2493 competitors from 77 different nations, and the forthcoming Games are expected to be even bigger than that. Together with coaches, management and officials, more than 4,000 people took part. From a humble beginning, both the Summer and Winter Deaflympics have grown into some of the biggest sporting events in the world.

The first Games were held in Paris, France when 148 athletes from nine different European nations took part. It was not until 1949 that the first Winter Deaflympics were held, attracting 33 athletes from just Five nations. In1935, the Deaflympics became a truly international event when the USA entered a team for the first time. The team, consisting of two athletes, competed in London, and the Games have continued to grow ever since. The Deaflympics have gone on to be hosted by 36 cities in 21 different countries, although it has only been held on five occasions outside Europe.

In 2013, the Games were to be held in Athens, Greece, but they withdrew their agreement to host the competition because of their financial problems. With the 2011 Winter Deaflympics already cancelled, it was so important that someone picked up the baton, and Sofia has done just that.

The Deaflympics are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee, and the Games have been organised by the Comité International des Sports des Sounds (CISS) ever since they first began. Unlike the Paralympic Games, events are run according to the standard Olympic rules, the only difference being the means by which officials communicate with the athletes to start a race or officiate at a match.

The Deaflympics remain a wonderful cultural event, where elite athletes gather to compete against each other, but where Deaf culture is celebrated, and Deaf people socialise. This cultural ethos stems from the Games being set up by Deaf people for Deaf people, under the motto, Per Ludos Aequalitas (Equality through Sport), although the Games also follow the Olympic Ideal.

To qualify for the Deaflympics, athletes must have a hearing loss of at least 55 db in their "better ear". During competition, hearing aids such as cochlear implants, are not allowed to be used, so that athletes compete on level terms. The Games offer twenty sporting disciplines in the Summer, and five in the Winter, providing a high level of international competition and recognition for a wide range of sports people.

This will be the second time the Deaflympics have been help in Sofia. The officials responsible for offering Sofia as an emergency venue for the 2013 Games, deserve great applause, and we wish everyone involved the greatest success. The athletes who take part in the Deaflympics greatly value the opportunity, as mainstream competition is often closed to them because of the determination to maintain oral instructions and sounds to officiate. Of course some Deaf athletes have competed in the Olympic Games but it is a shame that light starting is not introduced to open up more opportunities to Deaf athletes.

We hope the 2013 Deaflympics in Sofia are the best ever, and we hope that in due course, the Games capture the imagination of the media around the world, and thereby pull in greater sponsorship opportunities.

Article by Sarah Lawrencee

posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Events

13th October 2013