Stuart Harrison is the Vice Chair of UK Deaf Sports and has recently written a book called Same Spirit Different Team about world deaf sports and its involvement with the Paralympic and Olympic movements. Stuart came to Peterborough last week where we met up and he agreed to answer a few questions about him, his work and his book.
Tell us about yourself and involvement in deaf sports.
I was fortunate enough to attend residential schools for the Deaf from the age of 10. The extensive extra-curricular sports programmes, which I devoured, instilled a ‘lifestyle passion’ within me.
One year after leaving school I was asked to join FYD where I learnt to plan, develop and deliver sports and outdoor adventure projects that led me to train as a PE teacher.
I have always considered myself as a ‘back room’ type of person. Even at the age of 9, I was organising mini-olympics for the children in our neighbourhood during the summer holidays!
So you have a book out… is it your first book and why did you write it?
This is my first book and it has been important to write because Deaf sport is a complex ‘concept’ to grasp and we have not had enough books published on the Deaflympic Movement since Stewart’s ‘Deaf Sport’ in the early 1990s.
When people think of Disability sport – they are most likely to mention the Paralympics, because of the tsunami of books, articles, massive media coverage and investment on the event that pushes the Deaflympics further away from public consciousness.
I want my book to inspire more people to talk about their perspectives on the Deaflympic Movement and that they will begin to give it the attention, respect and support that it needs.
It is possible that people within the movement have been reluctant to be public about their thoughts and ideas just in case it damages what many see as a movement under threat.
So do deaf athletes need a separate games ?
Yes, right now, we need the Deaflympics otherwise I would not have got started on the book in the first place! The Olympic ‘spirit’ is a global movement and the trials and tribulations of its athletes inspire people to be their best in all that they do, from school children to multinational CEOs.
But the world still does not accept or understand deafness and other disabilities; therefore the Deaflympics, Paralympics and Special Olympics – when properly managed and supported inspire social inclusion and cohesion in ways that no other events in the Olympic family can.
Unfortunately, Deafness is a hidden disability, lacking ‘hypervisibility’ that is evident in the Paralympics and the Special Olympics. Society’s response to that has been to misunderstand the Deaflympics and not give the event the recognition and respect that it deserves.
My book challenges Deaf and non-deaf people to change the way they have been doing things: “What’s popular isn’t always right, and what’s right isn’t always popular” (Art Williams) – but I believe we must do what is right.
Its all gone a bit Russian now hasn’t it? What are the prospects for deaf sport for the next four years?
Right now, I do not have a great deal of confidence in ICSD President Rukhledev. Primarily because I do not know what he represents. He needs to tell the world what he believes in and what he epitomises.
He needs to be more open about his ideas and plans for the future. All I have heard so far leads me to believe that if he remains in office for the full duration, the Deaflympics will be taken back into isolation and it may never recover.
I am concerned about how the termination of ICSD staff contracts have been managed, I am concerned about the way international law on data protection as been disregarded or not understood. I fear that the implications of these will be damaging to ICSD. I sincerely hope I am wrong.
If you were in charge of world deaf sports – what would be the first thing you would do?
“Same Spirit Different Team” would be my guide to creating a manifesto. ICSD must continue to move ahead on the changes we have voted through at the 2013 Congress in Sofia for Deaf Sport Reform.
It will bring us closer to being the organisations that is more apt, modern and fit for purpose.
I think we must define who we are in sport; make the Deaflympics and the ICSD more visible; make Athletes and their experience our first priority; ICSD must showcase best practice examples and educate its member countries and we must have the ICSD, IOC and IPC continuing negotiations towards a stronger relationship.
Before you run off .. who is your favourite deaf sports person?
I don’t actually have a favourite Deaf sports person because I am constantly being impressed and inspired by many that I meet or hear about.
This ranges from young people who are still at school, people who lead an active healthy lifestyle through sport despite their age or other circumstances and then the range of elite men and women in amateur and professional sport – the majority being those who are denied the equality of recognition and support given to their Olympic and Paralympic counterparts.
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