We’re one year on from the most successful Paralympic games ever. All the venues were almost completely sold out and new national heroes were created with the likes of David Weir and Jonny Peacock cementing their places in our national memory.
The games were to achieve a success on a scale that few had predicted. With more funding than ever before to support our Paralympians, an extremely successful London Olympics and daily coverage on Channel Four, last summer was the greatest opportunity disability sport ever had to go mainstream. And it took it. Big style.
We’re now a few weeks on from the Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria. The torch relay made its way from Paris and thousands of deaf athletes competed in a wide range of events in what was a wonderful spectacle of sport.
Deaf Sports organisations in the UK who wanted to fund our Deaflympians struggled to find the money. UKDS (UK Deaf Sport) received £125,000 from Sport England to help with our Deaflympic preparations while at the same time, £347 million was allocated to support Paralympic athletes aiming to compete at the 2016 games in Rio. A quite staggering difference in treatment.
The funding situation means elite deaf athletes will continue to struggle while mainstream and Paralympic athletes will benefit from major investment in their coaching and facilities. The impact will be felt further down the chain too as most sports clubs are inaccessible to deaf children leaving only the talented hearing children free to benefit from quality coaching at a young age. As far as I know, there is no specific funding available to enable clubs to pay for communication support. The cost could easily be classed as unreasonable.
As Ian Noon pointed out so succinctly, it’s tiring enough concentrating on what’s being said in a meeting room, let alone outside in the howling wind, 30 feet away from the coach who isn’t even looking in your direction. No wonder so many kids came along when we launched deaf friendly football in Peterborough. Mainstream coaching doesn’t do the business.
The reason why a separate Deaflympic Games exists is communication. Whether that’s communicating with your coach, the fans, competitors or officials; being on a level playing field (excuse the pun) with everyone is almost as important as the competition itself.
The Deaflympics has a longer history than the Paralympics; it has as many competitors as the Paralympics and is planned to ensure that deaf athletes don’t feel like second class athletes.
It seems clear though that to access more funding for deaf sports, involvement in the Paralympics is the way to achieve it. Craig Crowley, outgoing President of the ICDS (International Committee of Sports for the Deaf) believes that the future of international deaf sport lies within the Paralympic structure. With little mainstream exposure for the Deaflympics, sponsorship is hard to come by and that could threaten its very existence.
Sofia 2013 was the pinnacle of sport for deaf people but sadly, outside the deaf world, the games passed most of the country by unnoticed. The only mainstream column inches talked of the funding issues, not the athletes.
So the question for you is this: Should the Paralympics merge with the Deaflympics? Should the Deaflympics carry on in its current form? Your views are welcome in the comments.
By Andy Palmer, The Limping Chicken’s Editor-at-Large.
Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events as well as working for Action on Hearing Loss. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP (all views expressed are his own).
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