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 by giving your contact details here.

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

ICSD Audiogram Cheating is a Disgrace

Deaf sports men and women and their public supporters have been contacting Two Big Ears to demonstrate their anger and concern at the news that International Committee of Sport for the Deaf (ICSD) employs staff who have been found guilty of falsifying audiograms. They have responded to the declaration from Deaflympic cyclist Tom Smith who has led the call for the Executive Board of ICSD to investigate and make changes to the ICSD leadership otherwise he will be boycotting the 2017 Summer Deaflympics.

Thousands of people around the globe have been following the story since it broke on the 23rd December here on Two Big Ears. Amongst these readers is Deaflympic swimmer Emily Noden who believes that the situation is “a disgrace because it strips deaf athletes of their reputations as honest sportsmen and women.” She has come out in support of the need for Deaf sport to come under the control of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in order that doping and audiogram regulations can be controlled at events like the European Deaf Swimming Championships where she competed recently “ the fact that there was no doping control meant I was at an unfair advantage knowing anyone there could have taken performance enhancing drugs and got away with it, making the sport potentially dishonest.”

A former Deaflympic swimmer, who remains anonymous suggests that it would be difficult to integrate deaf events into the Paralympics but does agree that the ICSD should be working closer in parallel with the IPC “to get back to better managed again.” With doping and audiogram control under independent bodies to oversee this work. The swimmer went on to say “It’s unfortunate that the ICSD Delegate voters went for Russian to be president of ICSD in 2013 who has now caused controversies to date. We in deaf sport will need to learn from mistakes and choose a proper and right people to sit on ICSD and a new president to manage, led and change where Craig Crowley have left off as he had done so much of the rebuilding work…” and that the ‘ill-advised’ delegates who voted not to re-elect Crowley in 2013 are “banging their head on the wall with their mistake.”

Verity Joyce who competed in the Deaf World Games (Deaflympics) in 1993 aged 12 can “certainly see advantages for being part of the para movement – funding being a big one, along with status and integrity.” Able to speak from previous experience of being part of a former Paralympic swimming set up “communication is key and no other athlete was isolated to the same level as I was in terms of information and inclusion. If we are to become a part of the para movement, it will be a huge culture shock to them, the media and so on. Also we need to fight for communication inclusion on a whole new level, which in some ways will be a shame as it will detract from the sport.”

In reply to Joyce, Emily Nolan said “The IPC, with their millions of pounds of funding they have received in recent years would certainly not have any problems in funding interpreters”.

Members of the Deaf community, like David Jackson (married to the Deaf Culture and Sign Language advocate Eva Feilding-Jackson) who supports and enjoys watching Deaf sport are coming round to the idea of deaf people competing in the Paralympics and argues that Deaf sport should accept the fact that logistics and IOC regulations will mean that deaf athletes will be subject to the limitation of athlete numbers as it is for all disability classifications because “It is the Deaf Awareness aspect that will definitely arise from seeing Deaf athletes on TV and in newspapers. That can certainly be a good thing for us. We need to force the ICSD do accede to this- it seems to me that some of the ICSD members are from countries where there is a clout to stop us being part of the Para’s movement. If that is the case, it is a very negative attitude that we will suffer for years to come.”

The ICSD (International Committee of Sport for the Deaf) have not commented publicly on the issue of audiogram cheating but reliable sources have informed us at Two Big Ears that the Executive has “taken notice” of the story being released.

3,000 viewers in 59 countries are paying attention to this story and expect to hear some answers from ICSD.

The Russian-led ICSD who control regulations for the Summer and Winter Deaflympics and oversee regional federations around the globe will be holding their next (45th) Congress at the end of March during the 15th Winter Deaflympics taking place in the winter sports city of Khanty-Mansiysk – in one of the most isolated and little known regions of Russia. Congress information packages have ben sent out to national delegates and ICSD president Rukhledev said ‘The more of you are able to come, then the more we are able to discuss the many pending items on the agenda that requires approval.”

Guy Finney of the UK deaf athletics team wants the 45th Congress delegates to challenge ICSD on taking remedial action over false audiograms – Two Big Ears wants to know who will be brave enough to make the long trek to Khanty-Mansiysk to stand up and challenge the Russian Bear?

 

For an in depth study of the Deaflympics you can order a copy of the latest book

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Are the Deaflympics really necessary ?

A common question I often get asked : “Are the Deaflympics really necessary?”

The straight answer is “Absolutely.”  However, people seek justification for that assertion – they want to understand it in ways that they can relate to.

Recently, I came across a short video of Helen Willis and her life as a student at university. Helen wears a cochlear implant and the video explains the pros and cons of day to day living. Before you read the rest of this post, you need to watch the film, (there are subtitles and there is some sign language) It is only about 9 minutes long so please bear with me and come  back to this page once you have finished watching here.

Welcome back. Now, I suspect that some of you will have already decided how some scenes in that video give clear reasons why the Deaflympics are really necessary for the benefit of Deaf people. However, if you are still unsure, allow me to elaborate.

The IOC, in its wisdom, believe that the Deaflympics segregate Deaf people from society. On the contrary, the Deaflympics are necessary to provide opportunities to a balanced world of “silence and synthetic sound”. Although there have been advances in Cochlear Implant technology that now overcomes some of the limits in Helens implant, there is still a need for assistive technology and other resources to enable a Deaf person to function independently. Implants are not a cure and flashing doorbells, electronic note-takers, sign language and the company of other deaf people is still required.

The Deaflympics are necessary because the IOC and sport has not yet solved the barriers that prevail in sport. It is said that the ‘rules of the game’ do not need to be adapted for deaf people – but the environment does. Opportunities to improve communication for Deaf athletes and others in the sports environment remain uncharted, untapped and under-resourced. The assistive technology already in use at the Deaflympics is still not a regular feature in the sports competitions run under International Federation rules. Sports officials are also still ignorant to the simple changes that can be made to enable Deaf athletes to respond when play is stopped. Thus, the Deaflympics are necessary in order to teach the IOC and sport what is required to become inclusive.

The Deaflympics are necessarily  important for society because the development of an elite athlete is similar to the career development of every employee of working age and there are two areas that need attention in order to progress, succeed and get promoted. The first area is the development and practice of skills and activity of the job itself, this has to be done in the most efficient and effective way possible. The second area is the continuing professional development, socializing and networking that enables the worker/athlete to take on more information, insights and confidence to develop their skills and activity area further.

Helen’s experience as a student in an elite academic environment mirror the same difficulties facing Deaf athletes who work hard to function in the elite sporting environment. Like Helen, their brains have to work overtime to fill in the gaps so they can understand the complex information that their coaches are conveying. So much brain-power is used, just keeping up with the coaches and other support staff that assistive technology and resources or changes in behavior and working practices are required.

The sports environment is still very much like the pub scenario described by Helen. She is amongst fellow elite students but she feels useless, all she can do is watch people lips move because it is impossible to understand every word despite being skilled at lip-reading. The ability to contribute is an important measure of a persons worth to others.

The Deaflympic pathway is necessary because it is an untapped source of Olympic talent that has only been utilised by a very small minority ( Terence Parkin, Dean Barton-Smith ) to balance out or springboard up to the next level of elitism. Unfortunately, governments and national governing bodies are blinkered by the Olympic/Paralympic monopoly as the only pathway for disabled athletes. By doing this, they have marginalised elite deaf athletes to the back of the queue when it comes to access to the funding and resources required to succeed. I have covered the impact of this monopoly extensively in the book; Same Spirit Different Team.

The Deaflympics are really necessary because sport and physical activity are beneficial to people’s personal health, well-being and academic/economic efficiency. The same is obviously true for Deaf people, well, it was at one time, when educational systems based on Deaf schools fostered the adoption of active healthy lifestyles engineered through the school – community links that prevailed. Nowadays, that has all but disappeared. Deaf sport has been fragmented and in some localities obliterated into extinction.

The workplace is a stressful environment for everyone and it is possible find ‘release’ in sport and physical activity or other forms of recreation that takes our noses off the grind-stone and allow us to relax and recharge. But not so for Deaf people, the bolt-holes everyone takes for granted are still stressful environments for Deaf people and Helen’s involvement in Dancesport is a good illustration that sport is the ‘happy place’ we can all escape to and ‘forget our cares and lose ourselves’.

Like Helen, all Deaf people seek out the benefits of sport within the mainstream environment, in the local clubs and facilities that are close to hand. But as we saw in the video, the acoustic environment of sport does not lend itself well to effective listening and communication. The interviewer in the video asks Helen “When do you hear? – When do you hear about the results?”. Helen answers “I think I am going to be very happy with it. I’ll be very happy with whatever they say”. Realizing that Helen had not understood the question, the interviewer patiently tries again “Do you know when you hear?” and Helen was able to answer the original question, thus contributing effectively.

The important point to consider here is that this was a one off situation in the relatively short relationship between the interviewer and Helen that lasted for the duration that the film was made. But this occurs more often in the daily relationship between Deaf and hard of hearing people and their hearing friends, colleagues and family members. This scenario repeats itself time and time again, people lose patience and draw away and stop communicating with deaf athletes because it becomes burdensome. I once came across a declaration made by a hearing person that you can invite your Deaf friend to a party once, but only once because the situation with communication was too awkward.

In the film, Helen’s parents are supporting her at the dance competition. Whether or not this is a usual occurrence is irrelevant but their presence serves to answer another point about the support structures that elite athletes need and how this can be found in the Deaflympics. There was someone in the sporting environment that was able to communicate more effectively with Helen as a competitor and provide her with the stress-free interactions that enable the athlete to stay calm and composed under pressure.

If we do eventually succeed in persuading the IOC and sport to recognise and support the Deaflympic pathway correctly, the majority of athletes in the Summer and Winter Deaflympic will still not reach the pinnacle of the Olympics, but they will at best have been given the opportunity to reach their potential. This is true in the case of Rajeev Bagga, five-time Deaflympic badminton gold medalist. Bagga never reached the Olympics, but he did compete in the Commonwealth Games and other world –ranking events. Now retired from the Deaflympics, he still competes internationally in mainstream Masters badminton for England and is now sharing his knowledge and experience with Deaf and hearing people as a badminton coach through opportunities that have been created by Sport England recognizing the key strategic importance of UK Deaf Sport, the British representative of the Deaflympic movement and its network of sports opportunities offered by third sector deaf organisations and their partnerships with national governing bodies and other providers of physical activity. We are only just starting to get there.

We can argue that some political decisions that were made in the late 1980s and early 1990s by the leadership of the Olympic, Deaflympic and Paralympic movements have denied Bagga the opportunity to compete at the Olympics. The International Committee of Sport for the Deaf and Deaf sport needs to learn from this and move forwards. Deaf sport needs to teach society that the Deaflympics are necessary and have much to offer non-deaf people in return.

If you want to know what those benefits are right now or need further information on the politics that have shaped Deaf sport into what it has become today, read Same Spirit Different Team, the latest book on the Deaflympic games.

Thank you to Helen for sharing her experiences with us.

 

IPC refutes Deaf comments about 2012 Paralympics

There was an interesting article by Joel Hammer on the BBC Sports website this week discussing the accessibility of the 2012 Paralympics in relation to Deaf spectators and athletes.

The headline ran with Craig Crowley’s comment that some people were made to feel like ‘second-class’ citizens when the attended or participated in the 2012 Paralympics.

The IPC responded on the defensive as an IPC spokesperson “we refute any allegation.”

The IPC refuse to accept the comment that deaf people felt like ‘second-class’ citizens because “absolutely no concerns were expressed to the IPC from deaf athletes or spectators before, during or after London 2012.” and on that basis no deaf people were made to feel like second-class citizens “at the best Paralympic Games ever.”

This is a rather unfortunate response from the IPC, especially as Craig Crowley was diplomatic in in comments on the BBC Sports Hour programme because he did commend the efforts that the organisers had made to improve communication and accessibility but they were still not ‘offered on a full basis’. Crowley justified his comments because in his role as president of the ICSD, he had the opportunity to tour the athletes village and attend some events and in his conversations with people he received feedback that prompted him to suggest that people felt treated like second-class citizens.

Is the IPC really not willing to accept criticism ?

According to their spokesperson they have never received any complains – and so according to them, Crowley is wrong. But the facts speak for themselves – people have spoken to Crowley and shared their experiences with him. I have also gathered comments from others who were also at the Games – athletes, officials and volunteers which suggest that if the ICSD is going to be able to make any progress in discussing the possibility of agreeing to have Deaflympic athletes and sports in the Paralympics, then they really have got their work cut out because it would appear, from the response we read this week, that the IPC are going to be difficult to negotiate with.

LOCOG themselves published a report on the accessibility of the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012, it makes interesting and extremely positive reading. Whilst it does not reveal any negative criticism, the recommendations in the report do suggest that there were things that were not ideal and thus the report has listed ways in which future world class event organisers can accommodate and include spectators to avoid treating them as ‘second-class’.

In my role at UK Deaf Sport am looking forward to joining my colleagues and discussing matters of accessibility and inclusion with representatives of the British Paralympic Association as soon as possible in order that we can help them improve things for deaf athletes who already qualify to compete under IPC classifications. Our discussions will be constructive, but they will also be frank and at times uncomfortable. They will include testimonials from athletes, volunteers and officials who were at the 2012 Paralympics and the recommendations of the LOCOG report. I am confident that we can work collaboratively for the benefit of deaf people in sport.

Does this mean that we will be asking for Deaflympic athletes to be included in future Paralympic Games ? Realistically, it is not a matter than can be resolved and agreed at one meeting. The politics and structures of the Olympic family are contrived and will take time. Through these discussions and meetings we will all be able to look to the future possibilities and determine what can be achieved in the best interest of deaf people in sport.

It is rather difficult to explain everything here on the blog. For more information and in-depth discussions about the relationships between the ICSD, IPC and IOC and the issues that will need to be covered in terms of potentially taking the ICSD back into the IPC and entering athletes into the Paralympics under a Deaf classification, you can read Same Spirit Different Team a new book, which will be released for sale shortly. You can order your copy here.

Would you like to contribute to our discussions with the IPC and BPA ? Did you attend the 2012 Paralympics as a spectator, athlete or official ? You are welcome to share your comments here both or you can email in confidence to me at my UKDS email sharrison@ukdeafsport.org.uk.

Let’s do the right thing.

The BBC asks questions about the Deaflympics

As Russia announced that they will be hosting the 2015 Winter Deaflympics, the BBC interviewed a discussion with former ICSD President Craig Crowley and Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor of the deaf news website The Limping Chicken.

A transcript of the radio discussion is available

They discussed:

  • The importance in difference between the Deaflympics and the Paralympics and the reason for separate games.
  • The big question : Are we Deaf or Disabled?
  • The relationship between the ICSD and the IPC and the pros and cons.
  • The concerns about ‘time running out for Deaf sport’ if it does not deal with the question about Deaflympics and Paralympics.

As with many other important questions like this, there is never enough time in a radio show to really cover everything in detail. Fortunately, the latest book on the Deaflympics,  Same Spirit Different Team  allows you to read up further on the topics raised in the show.

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The book is proving popular in the UK and also overseas. International readers have been having difficulty placing orders over the internet but fortunately the publishers have now been able to deal with the technical issues involved and they hope that the problem has now been solved.

The book is available to pre-order

 

Who said we were Paralympians?

Ian Herbert of The Independent has come up with his own alternative of the BBC Sports personality of the Year Award.

Whilst he has correctly and justifiably recognised the courageous and inspiring exploits of Gerry Hughes and his solo-circumnavigation of the globe this year he has unfortunately succumbed to the urban myth that Gerry is a Paralympic athlete.

The Deaf community knows that this is the incorrect title because there is no category for Deaf athletes in the Paralympics and that the Deaflympics are recognised by the IOC and the IPC as the equivalent event to the Paralympics.

So why does the media continue to make the same mistake over and over? One of the reasons for this is that the IOC and the IPC have a monopoly on ‘Disability Sport’ that gave birth to the urban myth of Deaf sport and the Paralympics in the ‘early days’ when they self-appointed themselves as guardians of all sport for disabled people. Over the last couple of decades, when the media has incorrectly attributed Deaf athletes to the Paralympics, nobody has corrected them.

Whose fault is that? Who should be scanning the media to make sure that the urban myth is not given life-blood? Should it be the ICSD and its national representatives? The problem is – resources – and motivation. Firstly, the IOC has been supporting the IPC with millions of dollars each year to enable them to appoint staff and promote the Paralympics. the ICSD cannot compete with this because the IOC who, for some unknown reason has decided that despite recognising the Deaflympics as an event as equal in stature to the Paralympics only provides a very small amount of funds.

The second problem for this, partly lies at the door of Deaf sport itself because its own motivation has been to continue to declare that Deaf people are not disabled. When the IPC was established, it was done so to govern disability sport under the IOC. The CISS agreed be a founder of the IPC on condition that it was able to continue to organise the World Games for the Deaf, which at the time was recognised as an Olympic -status event by the IOC. Almost immediately,  national organisations began to create problems for Deaf sport by not recognising the World games for the Deaf. The  motivation behind the establishment of the IPC for the majority of its members, was to get the fledgling Paralympics accepted by the IOC. They saw it as essential that the CISS should join them to give their cause credence.

For a few short years, the IPC was the governor of ‘disability sport’. But noting was done at the beginning to make sure that people respected the status of the World games for the Deaf and as a consequence the CISS and now the ICSD has been struggling.

In retrospect, when it withdrew from the IPC, the CISS should have insisted that the IOC and IPC make a declaration that the IPC was no longer the overall governor of Disability Sport, things might have turned out differently. Eventually, the IPC dropped the ‘disabled governance’ mantle and now correctly declare themselves to be the ‘global governing body of the Paralympic Movement”.

But this message has not been getting through to the media and the public at large. Deaf sport needs volunteers to come forwards and help to raise the media profile of the Deaflympic Movement.

If you are media savvy, media motivated and want to make a contribution to society – please get in touch with me at UK Deaf Sport as we really could do with your help to raise the media profile of the Deaflympic Movement here in the UK and overseas.

Ooops! I have made a mistake ! We not allowed to use derivatives of the word Deaflympic (Deaflympic Movement, Deaflympian, National Deaflympic Committee etc). The IOC only allows us to use the term Deaflympic in the title of the event itself…

That is why Ian Herbert should recognise Gerry Hughes as “The Disabled Sports Personality of 2013”