In July this year, Craig Crowley MBE, President of the International Committee of Sport for the Deaf (ICSD) said that it was “bittersweet” that London was hosting the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics because deaf sport has become more isolated in recent years.
Seven years ago, Dame Kelly Holmes was screaming and punching the air in Trafalgar Square on hearing the news that London had won the IOC vote to host the Olympic and Paralympics. At that moment, Craig and I shared a dream that the Deaflympics was at last going to get some recognition here in the UK.
That morning I was giving a presentation at Oak Lodge School for the Deaf in South London, our Deaflympic gold medalist Joanne Davison was with me as we spoke to the children about the 2005 Deaflympics in Melbourne and how Joanne won her medal. I even took the opportunity to announce that London had won the 2012 bid – the whole school erupted in joy – along with the rest of the country. But our nightmare was just beginning.
In 2005, UK Deaf Sport was on a high, returning from a very successful Deaflympics in Melbourne and working closer towards the targets that we had set ourselves with the financial support from UK Sport. We were confident that with comparatively smaller funding than the Paralympians we were going to continue improving for Taiwan 2009 and beyond.
In 2008, UK Sport announced that the Deaflympics were not going to feature in their seven-year plan for 2012. Along with nine sports, UK Deaf Sports funding ceased.
Personally I could understand why they had to cut nine sports in favour of others. But UK Deaf Sport is not a single sport. To treat the whole of the UK deaf sports landscape in that way not only affected sport, It affected the deaf community as a whole. That community anger and bewilderment is still simmering today – evident in comments made in various media
UK Deaf Sport challenged the decision at UK Sport Resolution but it was rejected and the organisation could not continue with an appeal because it did not have the financial capacity to do so.
Deaflympian, Oliver Monksfield took the issue up with his local MP, Ian Duncan Smith, who raised the matter in Westminster Hall on 16th June 2009 and asked the Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe to reply. Sutcliffe argued that:
“UK Sport’s policy does not discriminate against deaf people or hard of hearing athletes. Deaf athletes who meet the criteria for UK Sports world-class performance programme in either Olympic or Paralympic sport will be supported. There are currently three athletes in the programme who are deaf or have declared a hearing impairment. In the past, the programme included Antonio Ally who competed in the 2004 Olympics. “
In reality what they are funding is a two-tier performance pathway. The Paralympics feeding into the Olympics. Long before Oscar Pistorius there was Catherine Du Toit moving up from Paralympic to Olympic swimming. We almost had our own Paralympian Sarah Storey break into the GB Olympic cycling squad – this only happened because funding is available for Paralympians. It is most likely that more Deaflympians would break into the Olympic teams if there was funding in place for them. The argument goes, that if Antonio Ally can get into an Olympic team, then there is no need to fund Sarah for the Paralympics because like Antonio she does not need it. Of course she does, and so do our Deaflympic athletes.
The UK government wants to see Deaflympians compete in the Paralympics. But that is not going to happen just yet, it is not a decision for UK Deaf Sport to make. It is up to the realms of the IPC and ICSD to work out a solution. So in the meantime they need to fund the GB Deaflympics team, it will cost less than 1% of the GB Paralympic budget to send a full Deaflympics team to Sofia in 2013.
This first part has all been about Deaflympians being treated differently by money and financial priorities. Tomorrow is the second part – other reasons why Deaflympians are treated so differently.
Two Big Ears has not been out and about very much today because at the behest of readers of this blog, Two Big Ears has been creating BSL versions to go alongside the written word. Please be patient with Two Big Ears whilst we find time to bring the BSL videos up to date.