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.

Will the IOC Sanctions on Russia affect the Deaflympics ?

The IOC Executive Board has laid down special rules for International Sports Federations to follow when deciding whether or not any Russian athlete can compete in their sport during the Rio Olympics. But what does this mean for the Deaflympics in 2017 – should the ICSD follow the same ruling as the IOC and IPC ? If so, does the doping system in place within the ICSD stand up to scrutiny – can it cope with such conditions ?

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First and foremost, the IOC has granted the ICSD membership into the Olympic Movement and therefore it should follow the decisions of the IOC Executive Board and apply the same sanctions to the Summer Deaflympics in 2017. If it cannot do this, then the ICSD must be held in contempt of a fundamental rule of the Olympic Charter to protect clean athletes and the integrity of sport.

It must apply these sanctions to the Deaflympics of 2017, because it is likely that the IOC sanctions will remain in place until the 2018 Winter Olympics at least.

The most compelling reason for applying IOC conditions on Russia is because their Deaflympic athletes are state-sponsored and thus by association are placed under suspicion to the same degree as their compatriots in the Olympic and Paralympic camps where some Deaflympic athletes share the same training facilities and coaches.

After deliberating, the IOC EB decided that it “will not accept any entry of any Russian athlete into the Olympic games in Rio 2016 unless the athlete can meet the conditions set out below.” (Decision of the IOC Executive Board)

2. Entry will be accepted by the IOC only if an athlete is able to provide evidence to the full satisfaction of his or her International Federation (IF) in relation to the following criteria:

• The IFs*, when establishing their pool of eligible Russian athletes, to apply the World Anti-Doping Code and other principles agreed by the Olympic Summit (21 June 2016).

• The absence of a positive national anti-doping test cannot be considered sufficient by the IFs. 

• The IFs should carry out an individual analysis of each athlete’s anti-doping record, taking into account only reliable adequate international tests, and the specificities of the athlete’s sport and its rules, in order to ensure a level playing field.  

• The IFs to examine the information contained in the IP Report, and for such purpose seek from WADA the names of athletes and National Federations (NFs) implicated. Nobody implicated, be it an athlete, an official, or an NF, may be accepted for entry or accreditation for the Olympic Games.

• The IFs will also have to apply their respective rules in relation to the sanctioning of entire NFs. 

It is going to be extremely difficult for the ICSD to apply the four criteria in condition 1. This is because very few Deaflympic athletes are subjected to out-of-competition testing. The lack of political support from national governments to apply equal status on all IOC, IPC and ICSD athletes means that there are no funds available within International Federations to subject Deaflympic athletes to testing.

But this cannot be a reason for the ICSD to claim that it cannot abide by the IOC Executive Board ruling because the second criteria above states that ‘The absence of a positive anti-doping test cannot be considered sufficient by the IF’ in other words, if Russian athletes have never been tested, then they cannot prove that they are clean because they are under suspicion as state-sponsored athletes.

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3. The ROC is not allowed to enter any athlete for the Olympic Games Rio 2016 who has ever been sanctioned for doping, even if he or she has served the sanction. 

Condition 3 can be applied, without appeal, all Russian Deaflympic athletes who have ever been sanctioned for doping should not be allowed to compete in the Summer Deaflympics, Samsun 2017. Furthermore, the ICSD should put in place measures to ensure that Russian athletes cannot bypass this ruling by trying to compete under a different name, this is something that can quite easily be done as we cannot trust the Russian Deaflympic officials not to do this as they have already been found guilty, by Russian courts of manipulating audiograms.

4. The IOC will accept an entry by the ROC only if the athlete’s IF is satisfied that the evidence provided meets conditions 2 and 3 above and if it is upheld by an expert from the CAS list of arbitrators appointed by an ICAS Member, independent from any sports organisation involved in the Olympic Games Rio 2016. 

The problem with condition 4 is that whilst Deaflympic sports compete under the rules and adaptations approved by their respective IF’s, there are International Deaf Sport Organisations who fall very well short of running a tight ship when it comes to following IF rules or managing competitions to IF standards or even knowing what ICAS is.

5. The entry of any Russian athlete ultimately accepted by the IOC will be subject to a rigorous additional out-of-competition testing programme in coordination with the relevant IF and WADA. Any non-availability for this programme will lead to the immediate withdrawal of the accreditation by the IOC. 

ICSD cannot afford out-of-competition testing, so it will have to play safe and not allow Russian athletes to compete. Unless of course the Russian state will provide the funds to ICSD to enable it to appoint non-Russian WADA officials to test its athletes.

To close, I put this challenge to the ICSD President Rukhledev:

Sir, you were appointed by the ICSD membership to ensure equality and integrity for Deaflympic sport within the Olympic Movement, I put it to you, that you should seek financial support from the Russian state to fully fund a full, global, in-and out of competition anti-doping programme of the ICSD indefinitely to be carried out by non-Russian laboratories. This act of support to the Deaflympic Movement might go some way to demonstrate to the world that you and your country take anti-doping seriously.

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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.

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.

Why are Deaflympians treated so Differently? Part 3

BSL VERSION COMING SOON!

On Wednesday, Two Big Ears looked at how the 21st century media uses 19th century freak show structures, stories and techniques to market the Paralympics and why this is having a negative impact on Deaf sport because Deafness is a hidden disability.

Tonight, (or through the early hours of Friday!) Two Big Ears is going to re-write history by describing what philosophies influenced the people who created the “Silent Games” in 1924 and the “Stoke Mandeville Games” of 1948 and the way that these ideas have been recorded in history, influences the way people treat Deaflympians differently today.

First of all, we look at what inspired Eugene Rubens – Alcais, a Deaf car mechanic and competitive cyclist from Paris to dream up the first international multi-sports event for disabled people in 1924

He drew his courage from Pierre de Coubertin the French aristocrat who in the late 19th century promoted the benefits of athletics and organised the modern Athens Olympics in 1896. Coubertin wanted to introduce PE to French schools. He believed that his countrymen were easily defeated in war because they did not take fitness seriously enough. He travelled the world to study different methods of teaching:

“What Coubertin saw on the playing fields of Rugby and the other English schools he visited was how “organised sport can create moral and social strength”. Not only did organised games help to set the mind and body in equilibrium, it also prevented the time being wasted in other ways. First developed by the ancient Greeks, it was an approach to education that he felt the rest of the world had forgotten and to whose revival he was to dedicate the rest of his life. (Wikipedia)

Eugene Rubens- Alcais was born in 1884 and grew up in a time when “societies everywhere viewed deaf people as intellectually inferior, linguistically impoverished and often treated as outcast”. He became a prominent member of the French Deaf community, led the Paris Sports Club for Deaf Mutes and became President of the French Deaf Mute Sports Federation. Inspired by Coubertin’s ideas of the Olympics and together with the help of a young Belgian named Antoine Dresse, they created the idea of the international “Silent Games” as a way of challenging the oppression towards deaf people at that time. They used “Olympic ideals” to give the deaf communities around the world the “moral and social strength” to help each other and improve their place in society. Self-empowerment and forbearers of the “Social Model of Disability”.

Eugene and Antoine timed the “Silent Games” to be held in Paris two weeks after the 1924 Paris Olympics to gain maximum possible exposure. The “Silent Games” were modelled on the Olympics and despite what the IPC want everyone to believe today, it is the “Silent Games” that were the first international games ever for any group of people with disabilities. “The games immediately became the social context for countries to deliberate about similarities and differences in the welfare of their deaf people and afterwards, the deaf sporting leaders assembled at a café in Paris and established Le Comite International des Sports Silencieux (CISS) which was later named ICSD; The International Committee of Sports for the Deaf.”

Not surprisingly, Eugene earned the nickname the ‘deaf baron de Coubertin

In the last year of the 19th century, Ludwig “Poppa” Guttman was born in Germany and rose to become an eminent doctor. He fled Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany and came to England to work at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

Ludwig grew up during the “Jewish Revival” which included the use of physical training and sport as an expression of new Jewish self-confidence and a way for the Jews to integrate into a non-Jewish environment. Is this pretty much what Eugene Rubens- Alcais was attempting to do for deaf people to live in a non-deaf environment ?

It has been assumed that Ludwig’s involvement in sport as a youth would have influenced his later ideas for using sport to rehabilitate his spinal-injury patients and their reintegration into normal life. He came up with the idea of the first Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948 to coincide with Opening Day of the London Olympics of that year, 24 years after the international “Silent Games”

WHO SHOULD HAVE THE RECOGNITION ?

At this point, Two Big Ears would like to re-write history correctly, contrary to what The Spinal Injuries Clinic at Stoke Mandeville claim. Ludwig Guttman was not one of the founding fathers of organised physical activity for people with a disability. That honour goes to Eugene Rubens-Alcais with the support from Antoine Dresse.

Eugene Rubens-Alcais is described by his peers as “a man of modest habits who lived in a sparsely furnished and simple attic apartment, a mansard, while he passionately pursued his vision he gave all his time and what he had in working for deaf people and deaf sports.” Another account is “he always lived in relative poverty and died in 1963. His activities did not enrich him (financially) and is a motive furthermore to honour his memory.”

Ludwig Guttman in comparison was a ‘hearing’ person and rose to become an eminent British neurologist, awarded the OBE, CBE and was knighted in 1966.

Two Big Ears requests that British “hearing” society retracts its claim to have ‘invented disability sport’ through their adopted Dr “Poppa” Guttman and we should give due regard and respect with a posthumous honorary award to the earlier achievements of the Frenchman and the Belgian who got there first. Furthermore, a BBC Sports Personality Award should be given to the Deaf Club in Glasgow who 140 years ago, established the first deaf football club in the world in 1871-72.

The Deaflympics is a “silent” deaf voice in a hearing community inspired by “louder” Olympic and Paralympic “hearing” voices. It is time for the majority to listen and accept and properly honour the truth and support its Deaflympians on equal terms with Paralympians. Two Big Ears is not suggesting a merger of the two movements – he will share his ideas in a later blog.

On Monday Two Big Ears will answer the question ‘Why should society recognise and respect the Deaflympics?” Two Big ears will demonstrate that the event is 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.

Two Big Ears is now taking a well-earned rest to visit family ‘up north’ and enjoy what promises to be a fantastic finale and Closing Ceremony for the 2012 Paralympics. We will have a light-hearted break from all this heavy philosophical stuff with some weekend-banter and pictures of those who are supporting Two Big Ears.

Goodnight

YOUR BSL VERSION WILL BE HERE SOON