Sport26th July 2014

Deaf Athletes left out in the cold

With the Commonwealth Games in full swing, the world's best deaf sports stars have to look on

by Peter Hughes - Sports Writer

While many in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community are watching the Commonwealth Games currently taking place in Glasgow with enthusiasm, for some it is tinged with sadness that Deaflympic’s competitors are not part of the event, which brings together athletes from 71 nations and territories that are home to over 2 billion people.

That view is summed up by Craig Crowley, Former President of the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD) and Chief Executive of Action Deafness. Writing on Facebook, Craig commented, “Absolutely great to see the grand opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games - fantastic spectacle for para athletes joining up with fellow athletes as equals - yet despite my past attempts, I am still saddened that Paralympics didn't want to embrace Deaflympic athletes to be amongst their equals at the Commonwealth Games.”

The ICSD originally expressed an ambition for deaf people to be included in the current games as far back as 2011 at their 43rd Congress in Rome and although that didn’t come to fruition, Craig says that it is important that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing sports community continue to work at becoming more integrated with the rest of the sporting world, saying, “I remain optimistic this will be realised one day. Perseverance to get there will be pivotal for Deaf athletes.”

Craig’s comments generated a welter of replies with one respondent questioning why they didn’t see an interpreter present for the Queen’ s speech while another commented, “So .. the so-called "Friendly Games" is not Deaf friendly?” Whilst there may have been interpreters present during some of the Commonwealth events and for the live audience, the world's Deaf viewers on televison were not given an inclusive involvement in the opening ceremony.

A number of respondents referred to Stuart Harrison’s book “Same Spirit, Different Team: The Politicisation of the Deaflympics”, which SL First will be looking at in a forthcoming feature.

Former Olympic and Commonwealth games decathlete Dean Barton-Smith, from Australia, founding chairperson of the Melbourne 2005 Deaflympic Games, suggested that past and present elite deaf athletes should take the call for Deaflympic sports to be included to their national governments and their sports’ governing bodies.

The chair of the Royal Dutch Deaf Sports Association, Boris Pavloff, cited the situation in the Netherlands where the Dutch deaf and disabled sports communities have been in talks about integration but the Dutch government don’t view this as necessary since, they say, deaf athletes can integrate into the Olympic Games while Paralympic athletes cannot. Boris argues that the Deaflympic movement has to change this view, saying, “We have to get IPC at our side to persuade governments and regular sports federations to recognise Deaf sports people as a category apart from the able-bodied athletes.”

Craig says it is ironic that 25 years ago it was the Deaflympics movement that was opposed to integration with the Paralympic movement but he says the political roles have been reversed since then. He adds that he left the ICDS with a 4-year strategy in place to strengthen and develop closer relations with the Paralympic movement and so open more doors for Deaf sports people. He cautions though, that, “what is vital for us is that IOC do recognise Deaflympics but (it) needs to see both joining up forces as prominent partners.”

Sarah Lawrence, experienced representative Deaf golfer is of the view that mainstream deaf discrimination is at the heart of the misunderstanding around deaf sports men and women. “I believe there is an over-riding ignorance about the physical impact of deafness on sporting performance, as well as the barriers Deaf youngsters face at club and elite coaching level in respect of effective communication. Deaf sports people are rarely able to compete on a level playing field, but because being Deaf is not seen as a social priority or a vote winner by any political party, there is no appetite to give Deaf sport the international support it deserves.”

It is two years until the next Olympics and Paralympics and four until the next Commonwealth Games. It will be interesting to see what changes take place in the intervening years.

Article by Peter Hughes - Sports Writer

posted in Deaf Sport / Sport

26th July 2014