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The Deaf Olympics

We are in an Olympic year! London 2012 was amongst the most successful Games on record on many levels and our medal winning athletes – both able-bodied and disabled – are looking forward to more success in Brazil.

So, what about the Deaflympics?

Looking at the Deaflympics website, the first games were in Paris in 1924, with the first winter Deaflympics being held in Seefeld in 1949. The Deaflympics are recognised by the International Olympic Committee in their own right, and are separate from the more widely publicised Paralympics. Honestly, how many of you reading this were even aware of the Deaflympics? After 2012 our Paralympians are household names – can you name a successful deaf athlete?

Therein lies the rub – if you are a deaf athlete, you do not have a visible disability. You do not fall into the categorisations for the Paralympic Games. You have a choice of attending the Deaflympics, attending the Paralympics if you have another categorised (and therefore predominantly visible) disability or competing against the world class athletes in the Olympic Games.

What is your comfort zone as an athlete? In any predominantly hearing environment, interpreting is an issue. Laurentia Tan, from Singapore, is a successful athlete whose parents pay for her Interpreter support when funding is not available. She feels it makes “a positive difference to my experience” which in turn must be reflected in her success on the track? Surely this would be the same for all hearing impaired athletes competing in a hearing world?

There have been stories reported in the Deaf Press before about UK deaf athletes struggling to find sponsorship to attend these events. Why is deafness so “unfashionable” in the sponsorship stakes? Why do we as a society assume that if there is nothing visibly or tangibly wrong with you, that you do not need the occasional “helping hand” along the road to success? Where would our other successful athletes – both Olympic and Paralympic – be without Lottery funding, cash from the likes of Nike, Adidas et al? Once again, the deaf cohort is at the back of the queue when it comes to funding and support….

We are of course unable to answer this question, but we can hazard a guess….

In the charity world, a cute puppy or a sick child have the “ahhhhh” factor – they are used to make a point in a pictorial and appealing way. Points mean prizes!

People are much more likely to put their hands in their pockets to fund something they see as “attractive” and thereby gain some credibility by that association. It is a visual image that pulls on both the heart strings and the purse strings. It is the same ethos when trying to attract sponsorship – sponsors want to be attached to a high profile, successful athlete – does it really just boil down to the fact that deafness has no fashion appeal? It is not a marketable concept in our media driven world?

Just think about the deaf related stories reported in the mainstream press…

Largely these will be about a (mostly very cute) baby having it’s cochlear implant switched on and responding to sound (usually a parental voice) for the first time. A tearjerker for sure, and I do not wish to detract from this. However, how are the largely unsung wider deaf community who do not necessary have the “cute” ace up their sleeve, supposed to compete with this?

It is just a thought and if anyone has any answers or suggestions in this regard, we would love to hear them…. In the meantime, we wish all our athletes – able bodied, Paralympian and deaf – success in their chosen events in 2016 and 2017.

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