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Raising the profile of Deaf Sport and the Deaflympics


Raising the profile of Deaf Sport and the Deaflympics

As the Paralympics continues to raise awareness about disability rights and the power of disability sport, Stuart Harrison, Vice Chair of UK Deaf Sport, speaks to sportanddev about Deaf sport and the lesser known but equally important Deaflympics that will be held in Sofia, Bulgaria next year.

The exclusion of Deaf athletes from the Paralympics is a historical decision, based on the fact that Deaf athletes have different requirements in sport, and which saw the creation of the Deaflympics. However, the promotion of the Olympics and Paralympics as one larger and united event this year, albeit an important move towards inclusion, has been seen by some to marginalise Deaf sport.

If this 2012 legacy of uniting the Olympics and Paralympics lives on, do you foresee the Deaflympics becoming more incorporated into the Games in the future?

The Deaflympics is a multi sport international event predating the Paralympics by 2 and half decades. When the first Stoke Mandeville Games for the Paralysed came along it was only for wheelchair athletes and it made no sense for the deaf to join.

When the IOC signed a deal with the IPC in 2001, giving equality to the Paralympics, the deaf were left out. We’d like to see the IOC correct that oversight, since it contradicts both the Olympic Charter and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. In the last 10 years, we have seen that decisions by the major powers of sport can be a force for positive social change for some Paralympians while also a destructive force for others (e.g. some athletes living with the disabilities not represented by the Paralympics and also the deaf).

What are the greatest challenges to the Deaf and hard of hearing in accessing sport? Do you think that the success of London 2012 is helping raise awareness of these challenges?

Deafness is an invisible disability; the casualty of 'inclusion'. The consequences of mainstream schooling of the moderately/profoundly deaf in Western society has led to hearing people often sharing a notion of “there’s nothing wrong with them” when our athletes need lights and flags instead of starters' guns and referees' whistles, which are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to communications needs.

Cuts in funding destroyed UK Deaf Sports' support of deaf GB athletes and has had devastating consequences. The success of the Games has confirmed an Olympics and Paralympics uber alles approach that looks increasingly difficult to shift. 

How are attitudes to Deaf sport changing? What do you hope will be the legacy of the 2013 Deaflympics?

The legacy of Sofia 2013 will be to show a worldwide deaf sports movement that governments can continue to support, as is the case with nations such as the Ukraine, Cuba or Venezuela. In the UK, we will work tirelessly to raise the profile of a group with a long and proud sporting tradition, which is more than capable of bringing GB more medals and creating role models within an often-excluded community.


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Heather Elgar


Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 23:00