Sport30th October 2014

UK Deaf Sport Fighting Tooth and Nail for Deaf Sport

Developing strategic partnerships, the work of UK Deaf Sport promises widespread positive outcomes

by Sarah Lawrence

Deaf sports stars have achieved major honours in mainstream sports events. However, notwithstanding the smattering of success stories throughout the history of sport, access to mainstream sport for deaf people remains problematic. In some sports, it is nigh on impossible and those that have achieved major honours have often had to jump through additional hoops to get there. In addition to the inequality to balance that comes with deafness, the issue of communication can be a major barrier to access, coaching and match play.

These issues, past and present, underpin the importance of having Deaf Sport, providing leisure, exercise and high-level national and international competition for Deaf people to enjoy. Since the inception of the first Silent Games in August 1924 in Paris, the UK has been a major contributor to Deaf sport throughout the world. We were pleased to have the opportunity to interview Lee Dolby, the Director of Development at UK Deaf Sport to talk about the work they are doing to support, sustain and secure a strong and successful future.

The success of Deaf sport in the UK has been underpinned by tremendous individual endeavour, people putting their life and soul into helping run clubs, associations and events. Their efforts often went unrecognised, but anyone involved in playing Deaf sport today probably needs to look back and acknowledge that their opportunity today was probably secured by the hard work and commitment of someone in the past.

Recognising that Deaf Sports Clubs and Associations would benefit from some help, UK Deaf Sport was formed in 2003 as a body that could help provide greater governance and support, as well as being an influencing and educating body regarding the barriers Deaf people face to participation. Having secured a further three years funding from Sport England only a matter of weeks ago, Lee and UK Deaf Sport have the opportunity to continue delivering their forward thinking strategy that will improve all aspects of Deaf Sport in the future.

Commenting on the financial support from Sport England Lee said, “The funding is in recognition of the work we have done over the last 3 years and the work we are doing around creating DEAFinitely Inclusive Networks which is being seen to be of great value.”

Whilst Lee’s role is centred around the governance, financial well-being and strategic direction and recognition of Deaf Sport, the organisation also takes a hands on approach in respect of greater participation and the development/support of talented and elite athletes, work which is already paying dividends on all counts.

Overseen by a Board of Trustees, UK Deaf Sport consulted widely on how best it can operate to support Deaf Sport in the UK, the consultation being followed by the publication of a strategy in 2013, setting out what the organisation aims to achieve by 2017. A year in I asked Lee how progress was going. “We have done well in the last year,” he told me. “We have completed actions that have strengthened the organisation, especially in moving from 1 to 3 officers to deliver our objectives. We have successfully brought a lot of partners around the table because they can see the benefit of the strategic direction we are taking.”

With 12  Sports National Governing bodies already signed up to work with UK Deaf Sport, Lee and his team are in talks with another 7 although he recognises that they are not yet in a position to provide direct support to everyone. “It is important that we do not spread ourselves too thinly, too quickly as that could prevent us from having a meaningful impact," Lee explained. “We work with groups and organisations that come to us with a credible plan and want to develop themselves. It is important that our involvement can bring about a meaningful change.”

Chatting with lots of different Deaf Sports through the SLFirst Magazine in recent years, I was surprised to learn of the level of political lobbying that is undertaken by UK Deaf Sports on our behalf, including attendance at All Party Parliamentary Groups to promote Deaf Sport and submitting formal parliamentary questions regarding funding. This work, undertaken quietly and without bells and whistles, is essential going forward and I was delighted to learn just how much Lee and the team are pushing for us at the political level.

With the funding from Sport England provided specifically to support the work UK Deaf Sport are doing around participation, Lee explained that there is a lot of work being done around their DEAFinitely Inclusive programme, including a re-branding exercise. With the new brand due to be launched at their AGM later in the year, DEAFinitely Inclusive supports organisations, clubs, coaches and facilities to become more deaf friendly, by providing training, advice, information and hints and tips to improve communication with deaf people.

The work undertaken is already generating support from some of the biggest and most established sports associations in the country as epitomised by feedback given by The FA. “The FA has a clear and valued action plan with UKDS that impacts a number of areas of the game including participation, inclusive practice, education and awareness and talent selection. This work, and specifically the development of deaf inclusive networks in key areas of the country, is supporting the effective engagement of The FA’s DFDF (Disability Football Development Fund) workforce with the deaf community. Most importantly, the relationship between key personnel of UKDS and The FA’s Disability Department is strong and has enabled the plan to be developed and agreed with ease. It is hoped that this relationship will continue to develop for the benefit of the game.”

Looking at the UK Deaf Sport strategy, I must confess to instantly liking the simple but effective way they have set out their priorities, all of which makes perfect sense. With their focus on Playing, People, Places and Policy, you can see that UK Deaf Sport are in a position to ensure good governance, as well as the myriad of issues that exist around participation. You can access the strategy at:

Whilst UK Deaf Sport has secured the Sport England funding, that has to be used for a particular purpose. They are currently negotiating with Government about the need for funding to support talent development but at this stage much of the money needed to support talented and elite athletes has to be raised through other means and Lee is delighted that fundraising events are held to help them, although he is keen to have contact with anyone who would like to do some charity fundraising for them. If you are looking for other ways to get involved, UK Deaf Sport are always on the look out for people to join their ever expanding network of volunteers.

What is important to UK Deaf Sport is that the deaf community support the opportunities they develop and the training programmes they run. They are keen to develop Deaf coaches and more Deaf friendly inclusion through their DEAFinitely Inclusive programme, so please look out for information about that or visit their website at and facebook page

A mark of the difference UK Deaf Sport is making is seen from the recent profiling of Deaf golfer Paul Waring on the Channel 4 programme Transworld Sport. Their scope and reach into TV production teams such as this, coupled with high degrees of professionalism, is doing a lot to raise confidence and the profile of Deaf Sport.

Throughout the whole interview, Lee looked at the opportunities and the challenges with an equally positive mind, an attitude that spoke volumes about what UK Deaf Sport are all about. They have recently recruited new Trustees with a wide range of business background that will help the organisation move forward, the Board also being well represented by Deaf members. You can learn more about them by looking at their profiles online

Looking to the future, a testimonial from Manchester Deaf Centre speaks volumes about the impact UK Deaf Sport are having, and their potential in the future. “UK Deaf Sport’s vision for inclusion for the Deaf Community into sports and the professional field was exhilarating, exciting and a breath of fresh air. UK Deaf Sport are positively in the process of smashing these barriers down and giving budding athletes the opportunity to play sport at all levels alongside their hearing counterparts in the way it always should have been. By working in partnership with UK Deaf Sport we believe we can have a positive impact in sport.”

Having been involved in Deaf Sport for many years myself, I look forward to seeing UK Deaf Sport playing an essential role in securing sporting opportunities for the deaf community for many years to come.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Sport / Sport

30th October 2014