Written by Stuart Harrison
Yesterday Two Big Ears and I looked at how financial prioritization to Olympic and Paralympic sport in the UK has been detrimental to deaf sport whilst in other countries there has been a more equitable approach to recognising elite Deaflympians within sport pathways.
This post is probably the most difficult one for me to write because it will be controversial. I have shared my views privately over the years with colleagues whom I could trust whilst always looking for the opinion of others and evidence that would back up his perspective. This week he has been able to find evidence in an article in The Independent on Sunday by Peter Popham examining the work of Danielle Peers, a Paralympian who now coaches sport and is working on her PhD thesis in disability, sport and human rights at the University of Alberta.
I have long harboured the opinion that people’s perception of disability influences decision makers when thy decide that Paralympians are more deserving of support than Deaflympians because of the “19th century freak show phenomenon“. Deaflympians don’t look freaky.
Peers demonstrates that the Paralympics are ‘sold” to create more profitable versions of the “Games” . Marketing has “drawn on the specific structures, stories and techniques of freak show”.
This appeals to ‘gawking” tendency when promoters focus on tragedy and deformity instead of athletic achievements.
On the opening day of the Paralympics I bought a national newspaper with the entire front and back cover displaying a photograph tightly zoomed in on bladed legs. I doubt that a similar image of Usain Bolt’s legs, would sell news.
I agree with Peers that the Channel 4 ‘superhuman Paralympians’ video “showing a car flipping and a worried pregnant woman reinforced disability as tragic and horrible.” And I would like to add that no superhuman Learning Disabled athletes are in the video, they are outwardly ‘normal’ – so not marketable.
Deafness is a “hidden” disability and cannot compete for government funding or media coverage in the same way because people do not see Deaflympians as being any different to able-bodied athletes and therefore in 2009 did not challenge the Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe MP, when he argued that Deaf athletes are not discriminated against because they (are normal) and can compete in the Olympics like Antonio Ally. You cannot ‘focus’ on the bodies of Deaflympians as a “problem”.
The huge amount of negativity aimed at a BBC blog written yesterday featuring the views of the International Committee of Sport for the Deaf ICSD, illustrates public misconceptions very clearly
Popham concludes his article with “Disability like racism, is in the eye of the beholder. And while a handful of superb athletes are put on a pedestal, the grinding lives of the majority go on as before.”
Tomorrow’s third part will look at the philosophies behind the formation of the “Silent Games” in 1924 and the “Stoke Mandeville games” of 1948 and how “history” has been written in a way that influences people to treat Deaflympians differently.
You can read Peter Popham’s article about Danielle Peers here
Two Big Ears was working early this morning at BNI Hinckley, pleased to hear that some members have been following the blog. Thank you!