Coronavirus and International Deaf Sport

Life for Deaf and hearing people has changed this year, the Coronavirus has taken away our plans and forced us to rethink what we are going to do in the future. One thing for sure is that we cannot go back to the way things were before, we have to change – many people are afraid of change, but change, we must.

Covid 19 Golbal
With the exception of Belarus, sport across the globe as been cancelled or postponed. On the whole, people who play sport are optimists. A few weeks ago, very few events were cancelled, preferring to postpone and play again as soon as possible. But now, we have seen how dangerous Covid-19 is and governments and international sports federations are having a rethink. It is looking increasingly likely that no international sports events will take place in 2020.
This week, Yoshiro Mori, the former prime minister of Japan and now president of the Tokyo Olympic Committee has suggested that if a vaccine is not ready for the Olympics in 2021, then the event should be cancelled.

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Yoshiro Mori (Source: daily Mail)

Argentina, France, Ghana and Holland have cancelled their 2019/2020 Soccer Championships and the UK Premier League is thinking about it. France’s policies also put the postponement of the Tour de France in jeopardy, the UCI meets this week. The Ryder Cup could be postponed to 2021 and played without spectators.
What should Deaf sport do?
Back in March, many organisers of international Deaf sports events were optimistic and postponed events to late summer or later in 2020, but is this possible? The World Deaf Golf Championships of 2020 has been postponed, new dates to be discussed. ICSD wants to carry on and go to Brazil for the Deaflympics in 2021.
Can we honestly expect Brazil to host a Deaflympics in 2021? There is no strategy from ICSD, no funding in place. The Brazilian President has put his people at risk, calling Covi-19 a “measly cold”.
ICSD is in a very weak position internationally with the IOC and IPC. When the ICSD president was placed under house arrest in 2018, all funding taps from the IOC to ICSD were turned off. Even now after two interim presidents have been appointed, the funds are still withdrawn.
Russia has been banned from international sport, yet ICSD have stood by its Executive Director Dimitry Rebrov and continued to allow the Russian to run its affairs despite the fact that he has previously been found guilty of falsifying audiograms. Despite all of this, ICSD carries on as normal with no audited accounts, so IOC continues to withhold funds.
The IOC has asked ICSD to move forward and come up with Deaf Sport Reform, first developed by President Donalda Ammons and then restructured by President Crowley with a unanimous Congress approval to go ahead in 2013. Has ICSD gone to sleep, does it think it is immune from sports politics or is it just afraid of change?
International Deaf sport is on a ventilator, it may not survive.

What should deaf sport do?

Never Heard of the Deaflympics?

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As we get closer towards the Opening Ceremony of the 23rd Deaflympic games in Samsun, Turkey this summer, Deaflympic athletes and their supporters are working hard to raise the profile of this event through Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram etc) – this is generating the important and necessary exposure that the event needs.

This is important because it is still largely unknown in the sports world and to the general public and therefore many people will be finding out about the Deaflympics for the first time. When they learn that the Deaflympics are the oldest International multi-sports event in the world for disabled people, they want to know why they have not heard the name before.

All types of movements and organisations within society are highly dependent on the political and public profile that the leaders inherit, cultivate or acquire. The founding of the Olympic, Deaflympic and Paralympic movements all originate from the ideals, beliefs, innovations and leadership of three individuals who have been credited as ‘founding fathers’ of their respective events. They were Baron de Coubertin, Eugene Rubens-Alcais and Ludwig Guttmann.

These founding fathers all started their movements from different starting points and once people understand this, they will realise how important the Socio-economic backgrounds and the amount of political influence that these leaders had was critical in raising the profile of their causes.

Socio-economic backgrounds

Before the first Olympic and Paralympics Games were inaugurated, Coubertin and Guttmann had already become very successful, wellconnecetd and highly celebrated in their professional careers.

In contrast, the co-founder of the International Games for the Deaf, Rubens-Alcais, in his lifetime, never progressed to become anything more than a car-mechanic in a Paris suburb. This surely suggests that the legacy of Eugene Rubens-Alcais is remarkable.

Without a comparable high standing in society, Rubens-Alcais was unable to call upon networks or influential political support when most needed. Described as a ‘brilliant’ man of modest habits, he spent the whole of his adult life in a sparsely furnished and simple attic apartment. He gave all his time and everything he had to the cause of his friends and others.

He was eventually recognised decorated several times by his fellow countrymen; Officier d’Académie 1930 (Silver Palms) – awarded in France for contributions to national education and culture, Médaille d’Or de l’Education Physique (1930), a Gold Medal for Physical Education, Chevalier du Mérite Norvegien (1960), Chevalier du Mérite Social and the Commandeur du Mérite Sportif (1962).

For Guttmann, his starting point was very different. When he first established the Stoke Mandeville games, he was able to call upon the support of many influential people. One of his spinal-cord associates was Professor Maglio, who ran an Italian research centre on impairments. They collaborated and worked to ensure their Games followed on from the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Dr Nakamura, a Japanese medical researcher worked with Mr Kasai, Chairman of the Japanese Sports Association for the Disabled who, through him, had close ties to the Japanese government. And Kasai’s further influence secured funding for the 1964 Games from both public and private sector sources. When the Mexican government cited ‘technical difficulties’ as their reason for not hosting the Paralympics in 1968, the Israeli Government was lobbied by the ILAN Society (a group of disability activists); and this resulted in the event being hosted near Tel Aviv.

 Political Influences

The political connections accessible to Coubertin and Guttmann placed them in a position of influence that Rubens-Alcais could never hope to achieve.

The Olympics were not an original idea of Coubertin. In the beginning, an Englishman, Dr Brookes attempted to revive the concept of the original Olympic Games but was studiously ignored by the British sports establishment, despite having contacts within the Greek government and with the Greek Olympic philanthropists, the Zappas cousins. Brookes then began to collaborate with Coubertin who used his international society contacts to persuade the King of Greece and its government, along with others, to fund the 1896 Olympics in Athens.

The British government funded Guttmann’s research work so he already had the political backing he required. The idea of using sport as a motivator came to Guttmann when he observed patients playing a game in their wheelchairs utilizing a puck and an up-turned walking stick. The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act was passed by the British government in 1944 and members of Parliament who were war-veterans themselves ‘insisted that the act give preference to those injured as a result of war service’. This, however, focused on those who had become disabled by the trauma of war and did nothing to help the congenitally disabled that had not been injured in the line of duty.

It is necessary to digress here, whilst on the subject of political influence, and introduce a fourth pioneer – Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics. Her first “Shriver Camp” was set up in 1962 and was an indelible part of the philanthropic Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and the political drive of President John Kennedy towards the needs of children and the field of intellectual disability. The Kennedy legacy still remains a large attribute of the Special Olympics today.

Eugene Rubens-Alcais, who was born with normal hearing but became deaf at an early age due to fever, already had odds stocked against him when, in the 1920s, he began his far-reaching friendship with Antoine Dresse. Antoine came from a family of Belgian bankers and industrialists in Liege. These two men formed a unique alliance of interests as they began to build a federation of pan European Deaf sports organizations. They had small networks to draw upon and neither had the credibility of a highly respected international social/professional position. But, nevertheless, what they had was an opportunity to empower disabled people in a society that largely ostracised them.

Eugene Rubens-Alcais resigned as the President of the Comité International des Sports Silencieux (CISS) in 1953 and was succeeded by four other leaders who had to compete with Guttmann’s political standing until Robert Steadward in turn succeeded him. Rubens-Alcais’ successors were also people of modest socio-economic standing (See table below)

Table: CISS Presidents during the time Guttmann led the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation (ISMGF)
Rubens Alcais FRA (1924-1953) Car mechanic
Oscar Ryden SWE (1953-1955) Joiner, woodcarver, Sculptor, editor and lecturer.
J.P Neilsen DEN (1955-1961) Carpenter
Pierre Bernhard FRA (1961-1971) Carpenter, wood sculptor, coffin maker and WW2 resistance fighter.
Jerald Jordan USA (1971-1995) Printer, teacher, administrator at Gallaudet University for the Deaf.
Further details and biographies can be found in CISS 2001: A Review.

To read more about this subject and understand how the disempowerment of disabled people and the professional background of Deaflympic leaders may also have been a strong factor in the low-profile of the Deaflympics, you can order your own copy of Same Spirit Different Team here.

 

The above article is an edited extract from the book itself.

High Praise and High Expectations for Samsun Deaflympics 2017

With just 71 days to go to the Opening Ceremony, President of the ICSD Dr Rukhledev has praised the Organising Committee of this year’s Summer Deaflympics in Samsun, Turkey.

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This is very good news indeed, it is important that standards are continually met in order to meet the high demands and expectations of each generation that comes into sport.

I share Rukhledev’s sentiments and praise for the high quality of the 2005 Deaflympics as I was with the GB team in Melbourne when the organisers teamed up with the Commonwealth Games committee and worked together to use the Deaflympics as a testing event for many of the venues. Taipei were up next in 2009 as they wanted to show the world and the IOC that they too are capable of hosting World Class events and should be considered as a contender to host the Olympics. Again, I can also vouch from personal experience from being there with my family that the organisers did not disappoint us; up until now athletes, officials and administrators in the Deaflympic movement have often wondered if it was possible to improve on the spectacle delivered by the City of Taipei.

By all accounts, it would appear that athletes, officials and supporters heading for Samsun this summer are going to rewarded with the best ever Deaflympics to date. To back up ICSD’s claims, the Chef de Mission of the DeaflympicsGB was very impressed with how things were progressing when he went out for an early inspection visit in February, so things have clearly moved up a notch in the three months since then.

Athletes and coaches preparing for this year’s event should be highly motivated by this good news as things have been very difficult economically, especially when many governments still refuse to treat Deaflympians with the same accord as they do for Paralympians. Whilst DeaflympicsGB have maximised the use of social media, personal contacts and sacrificed training time for fund-raising activities to reach their funding targets recently, other Commonwealth nations like Australia are still looking for funds. The President of the IAAF, Sebastian Coe once said that if you put the athletes at the centre of all your planning and preparations, then they will be able to perform at their lifetime best.

With favourable inspection reports coming in, it would appear that the hosts are going to deliver as Lord Coe suggests. For example, this will be the very first time that there will be an Athletes Village for the Deaflympics where everyone will experience the ‘melting pot’ of cultures and nationalities all sharing the same accommodation to be hosted by the University of Samsun. But this will also bring a new set challenges for the 80 or so, national Chef de Missions and their backroom staff who, up until now have been used to managing the daily logistics of preparation and recovery of their athletes from the sanctuary and isolation of privately booked hotels and other forms of accommodation, with minimal interaction and interference from other teams.

This year I will be joining DeaflympicsGB  as Manager for the golfers where our sport will be medalling for the first time since the games began in 1924. Our hosts will be Samsun Golf Club whose brochure and promotional materials backed up by our CdM’s inspection report reassure us that only the very best will be good enough for our competitors.

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For more information about the Deaflympics 2017

 

Will Russians be banned from the 2017 Deaflympics?

This afternoon, the International Paralympic Committee banned the entire Russian team from competing in next month’s Paralympic Games in Rio.

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Sir Philip Craven (photo sportanddev.org)

Sir Philip Craven, IPC President said: “Tragically this situation is not about athletes cheating a system, but about a State-run system that is cheating the athletes. The doping culture that is polluting  Russian sport stems from the Russian government and has now been uncovered in not one but two independent reports commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.” Full statement

Will the International Committee of Sport for the Deaf follow suit and make a decision to exclude Russian athletes from competing at the 2017 Deaflympics in Turkey next summer?

On 25th July, we commented on the need for ICSD to consider and follow actions taken by others in the IOC family. Whilst many would consider the IOC decision making not robust enough to stem doping, we feel that the IPC decision to enforce a blanket ban on the Russian team to be the right action to take.

The ICSD does not have the finances and resources in place to enforce anti-doping and therefore it is highly likely that cheating is taking place at the Deaflympics. The Russian Deaflympic officials are not shy about cheating, they have been taken to court for falsifying an audiogram of one of their wrestlers. They cannot be trusted with the task of Executive control of the ICSD and the Deaflympic Games.

As we reported on 27th April this year, the ICSD has not published the names of Deaf athletes who returned positive doping tests on its website. This is the responsibility of the Chief Executive – a Russian, most of the athletes who would be on this list are – Russian.

It is now time for the ICSD Board to take back control of the Deaflympic movement, suspend its President Valery Rukhledev and Dimitry Rebrov, its Chief Executive at the very least and restore some confidence amongst its membership.

Two Big Ears calls upon representatives of ICSD national federations to unite and demand that the ICSD Board take action. Do not allow the Russians to ignore your concerns for a second time, do not let the Russians dismiss you so easily as they did last year.

 

 

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Deaflympic Congress votes to ignore fraudulent behaviour of the Russians.

Last week, at the 45th Congress of the International Committee of Sport for the Deaf, a proposal to discuss concerns about the Russia Committee of Deaf Sport (RCDS) being found guilty (by a Russian Court of Law) of submitting fraudulent audiograms was turned down and effectively ignored.

When put to a vote, 33 delegates were in favour of action, 5 against and 12 abstained. The motion needed 41 votes to gain a majority of 75% to proceed in accordance with the ICSD Constitution.

Staff employed by the RCDS falsified audiograms in 2011 to discredit an athlete. They were found guilty in a Russian Court of Law and another Court also overturned their subsequent appeal in 2014. Dimitry Rebrov, the current Chief Executive Officer of the ICSD, submitted the audiogram and Valery Rukhledev, now President of ICSD, was President of RCDS at the time.

The act of RCDS officials submitting fraudulent audiograms is on a par with Olympic officials submitting fraudulent doping specimens or test results or Paralympic officers submitting fraudulent disability classification assessments.

This raises the question; Do the 12 national representatives at the ICSD Congress who abstained actually understand the implications of the case? Was something amiss in translation? Did the proposers allocate sufficient time to ensure that everyone had read or understood their concerns?

When random testing in carried out at the Deaflympics, athletes whose hearing loss does not meet the audiogram standards are dismissed from competitions immediately. Job done.

But when a national federation is found guilty by a Court of Law of deliberately submitting a false audiogram to discredit an athlete – nothing is done.

Something is not right.

An Independent Scotland and Deaf sport

Scottish athletes like Lauren Peffers have a choice - will it be "Yes" or "No" ?

Scottish athletes like Lauren Peffers have a choice – will it be Team GB or Team Scotland ?

I have been asked a few times now to comment on what could happen to Deaf sport in Scotland after the Referendum next week.

This is how I understand the situation.

If Scotland votes No – things will remain as they are.

If Scotland votes Yes – then the White paper  says that:

  • Scotland will have its own Olympic and Paralympic teams.
  • Individual athletes like Lauren Peffers above will have the choice to compete in the Olympic/Paralympics for team GB or Scotland as long as they meet the citizenship criteria.

Lauren lives, works and trains in the North East of England, so she will not be voting on 18th September.

But what does this all mean for Deaflympic sports if people vote Yes ?

If the IOC accepts Scotland as a member of the IOC, then ICSD is likely to follow and give Scotland ICSD membership. History shows that the CISS and ICSD have followed decisions made by the IOC in respect of the Olympics and Deaflympics.

But will the Scottish government recognise a Scottish Deaflympic team on par with a Paralympic team?

This question has not yet been asked. From experience, for the past three Deaflympics (2005, 2009, 2013) Scottish politicians have showed their support to Scottish athletes within the GB Deaflympic team, but this does not necessarily mean they will provide equal support to the Deaflympic and Paralympic teams.

The Working Group on Scottish Sport (made up of prominent Scottish residents) recognises that they will have to budget for sport very carefully if the country chooses to go independent. They recommend that the Scottish government should seek a transfer of funding form UK Sport to sportscotland to meet the needs of Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

So far, UK Sport has declined to respond to questions from the Working Group on Scottish Sport.

Judging by the way things are at the moment in Ireland where athletes from Northern Ireland have the choice to either compete for GB or Ireland. There are no arrangements for UK sport funds to follow athletes who want to leave GB and compete for Ireland.

Funding for UK sport comes from the National Lottery. According to the Yes campaign, Scots will still be able to play National Lottery games and they will see a fair share of tickets sales to support good causes. But the Better Together says the opposite. Meanwhile Camelot, the company who operates the Lottery is remaining neutral in the debate so far.

An independent Scotland will need a new infrastructure to govern Scottish Olympic (NOC), Paralympic (NPC), Commonwealth Games teams for Scotland and the working party believes that Scotland has three options:

  1. Replicating the current UK system within Scotland by establishing separate and new bodies for NOC and NPC.
  2. Merging the NOC and NPC arrangements into one Scottish body
  3. Merging NOC, NPC and Commonwealth Games arrangements into one Scottish body.

The Working Group have reccommended option 3 because it is expected that there will only be approx. 300-400 elite Scottish athletes to support.

Again UK Sport has not responded to the Working Group.

Who knows what an independent Scottish government will do, perhaps it will embrace Deafness more than the UK government has done, perhaps they will listen AND respond effectively to the needs of Deaf people who live in Scotland. But it will not happen automatically, Deaf people in Scotland will have to campaign hard.

Scotland – It is up to you. Use your vote wisely. Good Luck.

Why should Society Recognise and respect the Deaflympics?

On Friday Two Big Ears promised to answer the question ‘Why should society recognise and respect the Deaflympics?”

In tonights post, Two Big Ears will demonstrate that the Deaflympics are worthy of its equal standing to the Paralympics by using the concepts of “Deaf Gain” and the Social and Medical Models of Disability and the benefits of elite disability sport.

Commentators and spectators alike are suggesting that the Paralympics is re-defining the term ‘disability’ and therefore justifying a sociological impact of sport. The Deaflympics are also capable of doing this.

First some short definitions:

“Social Model of Disability”  The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) – society is the main contributing factor in disabling people.

“Medical Model of Disability” The medical model of disability focusses on the individuals limitations and ways to reduce those impairments or using adaptive technology to adapt them to society.

“Deaf Gain” is defined as a reframing of ‘deaf‘ as a form of sensory and cognitive diversity that has the potential to contribute to the greater good of humanity. There are several concepts within Deaf Gain, including; Deaf Increase – the opposite of hearing loss, emphasising that Deaf people have something of importance. Deaf benefit – deafness is a benefit as well as a loss. Deaf contribute – all the ways deaf people contrinbute to humankind

Between 1988 and 1993, the ICSD became a member of the IPC to try and find a way to assimilate into the Paralympics. Unfortunately, through the social model of disability the process identified systemic barriers created by the need for interpreters and the costs of this.  When I was interviewed by BBC Newshour yesterday, the presenter challenged the issue “But surely, these days the costs of providing funds to give paralympians specially designed wheelchairs, limbs , equipment and so on must far outweigh the costs of providing sign language interpreters – (in order to allow Deaflympians into the Paralympics)?” A mute point up for discussion between IPC and ICSD

In 1924, the founders of the Silent Games were looking for ways to empower deaf people though the Olympic ideals of Cubertin. Using the power of an international muli-sports competition for the greater good. The motto at the 2009 Taipei Deaflympics was “Power in Me” (The Chinese literal translation was “The Power of Silence”) it empowered both the deaf and the hearing to come together and learn about sign language. The Deaflympics brought a benefit to the Taiwanese hosts to enable them to provide a service to visiting athletes and supporters. The LOC of the games was a mixed team of deaf and hearing people in order to empower everyone and give them an opportunity that would ordinarily be denied.

In the context of Deaf Gain, Deaflympic athletes and coaches should be valued by society because they have something to contribute. Hearing coaches and athletes can pick up new ways of learning and interacting with their sports environment in order to improve performance. One example I have read is an occasion where the Swiss national junior snowboard team hired a coach who was deaf. “The coach realised that the snowboarders were listening to the sound of the board cutting into snow so they could work out if they were making the quickest stops and sharpest turns possible.  The coach was not satisfied with this reliance on auditory cues and made his athletes wear ear-plus during training. Deprived of their usual sensory feedback, the snowboarders initially felt out of their element, but the earplugs forced them to learn to depend on the feel of the snow beneath their boards. Eventually the athlete’s performances improved markedly.”

The Deaflympic are a great forum for “transnationalism” through gesture and sign language. A model of human interaction in a globalised world. Deaflympians are able to interact and communicate with each other across linguistic boundaries immediately. Therefore, in comparison, Olympians and Paralympians have to find a common spoken language before they can communicate successfully.

This week, Tom Smith, a deaf cyclist from Wales is competing in the European Deaf Cycling championships. Tom is not a native sign language user, he has been educated using the oral tradition. His tweets from Russia this week illustrate transnationalism. “Sign language improving. Alphabet similar to ASL. Just keep forgetting f & g ha ha!….. After the race, stood around talking to Russians, Belgians, French, Germans, Austrians, six nationalities including me – one language. How cool is that!”

By comparison, in the book “Sky’s the Limit” there is a description of a daily routine of GB cycling academy which at the time, was 3 hours road work, one hour lunch, 3 hours French then 3 hours track work. They needed to learn French so that they could live and work on mainland europe where French is a dominant language for cycling teams and training environments.

Olympians and Paralympians have a lot to gain from the valuable contributions that Deaflympians bring to human communication.

The article I  have read on ‘Deaf Gain’ concludes with the potential impact of this concept.

“For most parents, the concept of a deaf baby conjures up anxious thoughts of isolation, limited communication and myriad other difficulties for their child. But that is the old frame. The new frame, the frame of Deaf Gain, sees the baby not as a problem but as an asset. A family with a deaf baby benefits by being exposed to a new language and culture and to new people, ideas and experiences. A deaf baby is value added to a family, but the contribution benefits not only the family but general society as well. Every deaf baby born on this planet is a gift to humankind.”

In a world where the Deaflympics is recognised and valued, the above vision of a deaf baby in a hearing family could be translated to a local level in sport. At the moment, to most coaches and athletes, the concept of a deaf athlete/teammate conjures up “anxious thoughts of isolation, limited communication and a myriad of other difficulties”. But through Deaf Gain, the team can see the deaf athlete as an “asset”. A team with a deaf player benefits by being “exposed to a new language and culture and to new ideas and experience”. Value the Deaflympics and it will become a gift to sport and humankind in the same way that the Olympic and Paralympics have inspired a generation this summer.

Two Big Ears was originally planning to stop his campaign when he Paralympic flame was extinguished. But it has been decided to continue as they are some much more to learn about deaf sport. Only by keeping the Deaflympics and the forefront of society’s conscious might we see a “fair deal” for Deaflympians.

Two Big Ears will be blogging twice a week. so please watch out for future posts.

If you like what you are reading here and wish to keep up with other discussions on the subject, you are welcome to visit the UK Deaf Sport group on LinkedIn for professional discussions.