Critical Review of Thomas Giddens’ documentary: “Does Deaf Football have a Future?”

I have been eagerly anticipating the release of a new documentary “Does Deaf Football Have a Future?” because it is the first time in a while that a programme about Deaf sport was being made in the UK where I had no involvement or insight. I wanted to compare this documentary with my analysis and perspective of the way in which media promotes the Deaflympic Movement and Deaf sport.


The documentary has been made at BSL Zone who support the next generation of d/Deaf filmmakers through their Zoom 2014 scheme aimed at d/Deaf scriptwriters and directors who have some experience but have never had their work broadcast on television. This is Thomas Giddens first ever attempt at documentary filmmaking where he explores ideas about the future of Deaf football. The film is now available online.


There are an infinite number of ways to analyse a subject and in Same Spirit Different Team I highlight the important of how the media representation of sport shapes and informs public attitudes to disability sport. Journalists have the power to inform or not to inform and they construct reality from their particular perspectives. I was looking forward to finding out how far Giddens would take his responsibility of wielding power to inform us about the future of Deaf football.


Without giving too much away; I recommend that you watch this enjoyable and well-made documentary as I think it gives people a broad perspective of Giddens potential as a documentary maker. This debuting director was limited to 15 minutes of airtime and I think he did well to;

  • Use old newsreels and contemporary footage, to give us an historical perspective from the experience of the current GB manager Philip Gardiner.
  • Advocate the current politics and philosophies about deaf football
  • Briefly explore the importance of role models and inclusive football
  • Give us all a hint into what the senior management at GB Deaf Football believes needs to be done in the future


Exposure to mass media plays a significant role in reinforcing existing norms and attitudes that might serve to change public attitudes. Family and peer opinions can be strong, but these too are mass media influenced. Journalists have the power to inform or not inform and they construct reality form their particular perspectives.


I hope this experience has inspired Giddens to continue making sports documentaries because the more coverage we have of the Deaflympics and Deaf sport, the more information we have to share with the public and society to increase exposure and encourage debate and discussion.


Whatever coverage is realised, it does influence attitudes towards the Deaflympics brand; and so it is important that national federations like UK Deaf Sport and their IOC representative the International Committee of Sport for the deaf (ICSD) interacts with the media as much as it possibly can; to present a positive and attractive brand to future athletes, target audiences, corporate supporters and others who are essential to the sustainability of Deaf sport.


The Zoom film scheme is designed to support the next generation of d/Deaf filmmakers. Included five days training, mentorship, script development, production and communication support. Find out more by logging into the BSL Zone.

Why researching Deaf sport is necessary.

The other day I was intrigued to learn via the BBC that Dr Michael Kearney from the University of Melbourne has discovered why Koala bears hug trees.

They do this to regulate their body temperature and thermal imaging cameras have demonstrated that in hotter weather the Koalas moved to the lower, cooler parts of trees – and the closer they hug trees, the cooler they get. fascinating stuff.

Now, what on earth does this have to do with Deaf sport?

Photo by : Stephen K Johnson

Photo by : Stephen K Johnson

Up until this morning, everytime I have seen pictures of Koalas, they are seen climbing trees, because that’s what they do, it’s their habitat. For most people, it’s nothing remarkable to note.

But from now on, until my dying day, my perspective on these animals will be altered. Everytime I see a Koala hugging his tree I will understand. I will have greater empathy for them and will also perhaps be more concerned about deforestation and its impact on other tree dwellers etc

My perspective has changed because of some interesting research.

Deaf sport and the Deaflympics require in depth research in order for society to accept that for too long now it has misunderstood deafness in relation to sport.

Photo by: Sam Perkins

Photo by: Sam Perkins

When you see pictures of Deaflympic athletes in action – nothing is remarkable, nothing grabs your attention. But once research demonstrates the impact of deafness on sports performance, there will be greater empathy and a willingness to act and ensure that sport no longer excludes deaf people and keeps them on the margins.


You can read more about how deafness affects sports performance in my new book, Same Spirit Different Team – educating one new reader at a time.

Share your thoughts and experience :





Can we keep blaming the Referees ?

A story that has been circulating in the UK media this week about Deaf footballers is a prime example of how the media influences public perception about Deaf people and their involvement in sport.


GB v Japan  Summer Deaflympics 2009, Taipei

GB v Japan Summer Deaflympics 2009, Taipei – Photo by Sam Perkins

The first headline in the Birmingham Mail (07:00 26th May 2014) was “Birmingham Deaf football team end season on minus six points.” details


By the time others had got hold of the story and published online, the headlines read :

“Deaf football team concede 164 goals because they couldn’t hear referees whistle.” (Mirror 10:53 )  details


“Deaf football team who conceded 164 goals, appeal against relegation because they couldn’t hear the referees whistle.” (Metro 12:32) details


“They would keep running after the whistle blew: Deaf football team who finished on record low points total blame not being able to hear referee.” (Mail Online 13:43) details


How have the readers reacted?

From all the comments posted:

36% were either prejudiced or negative in their attitudes towards Deaf and disabled people

20% showed their support to the Deaf players and felt referees should be trained to be deaf-friendly with flags.

17% offered constructive suggestions for improving the situation in future

17% were critical of the media’s handling of the story

10% commented constructively that there were other factors causing poor performances

It is a worrying statistic to see 36% prejudiced against Deaf people. This appears to reflect a similar study of racism in the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey published this week declaring that 1 in 3 people surveyed admitted to being racially prejudiced.

(27th May 9:15am) Callum Fox , Marketing and Communications Officer at North Riding County Football Association:

“If you’re going to pinch a story, have the decency to quote the original which was published in the Birmingham Mail … Also shame on Metro for completely twisting the story to suit their desire for click bait by omitting an entire section of quotes in which the manager says he blames the teams performance for their poor performances, not the ref as you claim. The “journalist” who wrote this ought to be ashamed of himself.”


It can be argued that a more skillful Deaf player will be able to cope without the need for referees to wave flags. But in the Deaflympics, the elite Deaf football competition, match officials do use flags as the following picture will illustrate:

Referee carrying flag during Deaflympics competition.

Referee carrying flag during Deaflympics competition.   – Photo by Sam Perkins


In the background, we can see additional match officials with flag during Deaflympic competition.

In the background, we can see additional match officials with flag during Deaflympic competition.  Photo  by Sam Perkins

As I mentioned in my last post, it is often said that the rules of sport do not need to be modified for deaf athletes and players. This is misleading, it should be pointed out that the playing environment does need to be adapted – everyone in football does need to become more deaf aware and if they really believe that they are inclusive, they have to take action and compensate by using flags. But, quite rightly, there are Deaf football teams who perform consistently well against hearing opponents and so referees not waving flags is not the only reason for the failure of Birmingham Deaf FC.


UK Deaf Sport staff are investigating the matter and have been working with Birmingham FA and the UK Deaf Football Federation to move forwards and make improvements. When UKDS consulted with partners at Birmingham Institute for the Deaf who have been supporting the football club it was reported that team are unhappy with how the story has been portrayed, the team are the first to admit that they did not play well, and due to lack of organisation and commitment ended in a very poor result.

“From what we can tell, the reporter focused on the issue of lack of flag usage”.

The BDFC secretary said

Deaf people want to play sports and be treated equally to other people yet after one disappointing season they have been published in newspapers for all the wrong reasons.”


Whilst there are many factors that will affect a team’s performance in a competition, the fact remains that in team sports, if the players do not feel they can trust officials to be unbiased they will not be motivated to sustain their involvement and seek ‘the level playing field’ elsewhere. To be truly inclusive governing bodies of sport need to be more proactive and take their responsibilities seriously by working with Deaf sport to provide the right level of training an awareness that is required of everyone involved, players as well as officials.


Enterprising companies have used wireless digital technology to create vibrating armbands that react when a whistle is blown. But this technology is far too expensive and beyond the reach of the regular amateur club, so for now, football needs to follow the Deaflympic protocol for match officials to use visual signals to signal that the whistle has been blown.

For a more in-depth study of how the media portrays the Deaflympics, read Same Spirit Different Team available now from Action Deafness Books.

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.


Celebrating Women in Deaf Sport

The Twittersphere is a crowded place today with every opportunity to tweet the celebration of International Women’s Day.


Here in the UK, the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation has launched its “Say Yes to Success” campaign to drive more commercial and media investment and attention to women’s sport. They plan to achieve this through investment and coverage of as many high quality events and competitions as possible.

According to WSFF, women’s sport only receives 0.4% of the total commercial investment in sport and only gets 7% of sports coverage by the media.

Today I am celebrating women in Deaf sport. I want to do this because I am concerned about the lack of deaf women taking up strategic roles in sport. UK Deaf Sport is currently recruiting for new Board members and we are very impressed with the high calibre of applications that we have attracted and we hope to be making some announcements later in the year. However, we need more women to apply for a place to help us go forwards.

Personally I don’t think we are communicating publicly how important women are to UKDS, perhaps people think we already have this sorted ? Maybe there is a lack of inspiration ? or there is a resignation that it remains a male dominated institution and it will be difficult to make an impact?

UK Deaf Sport has, up until now, always had women on its board of trustees, but both remaining women have tendered their resignations this year and we will not have replacements on the board at our AGM on 26th March.

I cannot stress how important it is that we have women represented at board level. There is so much that needs to be done and we need inspirational leaders to come and help us achieve our ambitions.

Did you know that at the first Deaflympics in Paris, 1924, there was only one woman competing. The pioneer of women was Hendrika Nicoline Van der Heyden (NED) who competed alone in the 100m backstroke swimming. According to Same Spirit Different Team  “Her event is probably, the first and only ‘walkover’ in the history of the Deaflympics.”

IMG_0533In the 2013 Summer Deaflympics, the majority of medal winners in the GB team were women. Athletic’s Melanie Hewitt, Lauren Peffers and the GB Womens Football team. The team was inspired by a charismatic Chef de Mission Fiona Brookes who was at the forefront from the moment she took on the role.

The CISS (Committee International Sports des Sourds) was the first international sports organisation to appoint a women, Maria de Bendeguz (VEN)  onto its Executive Committee in Koln 1981.

Donalda Ammons followed next as CISS Secretary General in 1997 and then succeeded John Lovett as President in 2005 and served until 2009 as she celebrated what was the most successful Deaflympic Games in terms of commercial and media coverage to date when the City of Taipei invested $200m of which $4.34m came from commercial sponsors and vastly increased media coverage which saw attendances rise from 12,00 in Melbourne 2005 to 278,884 in Taipei.


Emile Sheng, CEO of the Taipei DOC said that the real ‘gold’ in staging the Deaflympics was not in the number of medals generated by the national Chinese Taipei team or the financial profit generated but by the raising of Taiwanese international profile, initiating a regeneration of Taipei City and, for the countries leading businesses, showcasing their products and services. Tony Phoo, an economist with Standard Chartered bank Taiwan PLC, observed:

Taiwan has long been seen primarily as a supplier of electronics components. This will change after the nations socio-economic development is displayed for all to see. (Brisebois 2009, p60 Same Spirit Different Team 2014)

The UK Deaf Table Tennis Association, this week has appointed Sereena Gilmour as its Chairperson. She is the mother of Deaflympian Nick Gilmour and the wife of the late John Gilmour who the UKDTTA owe a great debt to for his dedication and hard work.

IMG_1138Swimmer Danielle Joyce is currently enjoying sporting success breaking 3 world records at the EFDS National Juniors last week and destined to go further.

Like the WSFF, we need more media coverage of the Deaflympics. Same Spirit Different Team explains in detail how in 2001 the IOC contributed US$9m for the promotion of the 2008  Paralympics and US$14m for the 2010 and 2012 events but only 150,000 swiss francs for the Deaflympics to cover 2005-2009. The book suggests a plan of action.

Deafness is a disability in sport – because people do not understand visual awareness.

In my latest book, Same Spirit Different Team I discuss the subject of deafness and how it affects high performance sport and I argue that we need more research into this area in order that people can understand the Deaflympics and Deaf sport itself.

The problem is, that non-deaf people find it very difficult to empathise with the difficulties of deafness – until it happens to them, and by then it is too late for the generations of deaf athletes who are missing out on the recognition and support that the Deaflympics and Deaf sport needs.


Steve James’ article in The Telegraph “Six Nations 2014: England turn to disco lights to improve visual awareness” demonstrates that the inability of the England international rugby team being unable to hear each other at Twickenham has resulted in missed opportunities to score tries because of the increased noise levels from the Twickenham crowds. The coaches are calling it a lack of visual awareness. Mike Catt is experimenting with disco lights to try and improve player performance.

The England players are temporarily disabled, because they cannot hear each other. Their performances are compromised. The coaching staff do not understand visual awareness and how to develop it naturally.

The solutions to the problem are much closer to home, and the people with the knowledge to help have already played at international level – but they don’t realise that they are the solution. Ben Cohen MBE (England 2000-2006) and Matthew Gilbert (flanker currently with Bath) are the players that Stuart Lancaster needs to turn to for help.

However, as i explain in the book, due to the stigmatisation of deafness and the impact that this has on sports performance, both Cohen and Gilbert have suppressed their innate abilities and therefore do not have an acquired understanding of the ‘super power‘ within themselves.

As Andy Palmer, writing for the Limping Chicken explains, the England coaching team need to consult with the England Deaf Rugby team as they can learn from them. Lyndon James, secretary of the England Deaf Rugby Union explained to Palmer that by learning sign language high performance athletes will improve their visual awareness. I might add that they need to create their own system of signs that cannot be intercepted by the opposition.

sports coach UK currently provides a workshop “Effective Communication” which is based on the non-verbal communication skills innate in deaf and non-deaf people that can be enhanced to improve sports performance. This workshop has been designed by myself, representing UK Deaf Sport in partnership with the NDCS and sports coach UK. Feedback from participants is having the desired effect that i intended the workshop to produce – not only do delegates develop a realisation that these skills give them a little more confidence to work with deaf performers but they can be applied to everyone that they coach.

The disco lights might have an outside chance to improve the peripheral vision of players and lead to a few more tries, but they have much much more to gain by developing their non-verbal skills which will lead to enhanced visual awareness – a much more natural state of performance development.

The first step is to get Stuart Lancaster and the entire England coaching staff onto the sports coach UK workshop along with the England Deaf rugby team and they will realise within three hours what their solutions are.

I have briefly mentioned here that is not only a physiological problem – the impact of being unable to hear, but it is also a sociological problem – the stigmatisation of deafness. The impact of Milan 1880 and the difficulties of accepting deafness has far reaching implications for deaf people in sport. The book Same Spirit Different Team is a must read if you want to know more about this fascinating subject.

Ex England and New Zealand international Jamie Salmon is already reading his copy of Same Spirit Different Team – who will he help first England or New Zealand ?


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

Let’s do the right thing.