The forgotten athletes

Great Britain at 2017 Deaflympics

The doors close in the stadium. The bleachers are empty. The flags that proudly flew in the winds are taken down. The last of the confetti is being swept away. The culmination of years of training by some of our finest athletes took place in this stadium, and now… the 2017 Samsun Deaflympics are over.

We sent 5 teams to compete in the following categories: athletics, football, golf, tennis and swimming.

GB 2017 Deaflympics medalsHow did they fare? Well, we got a haul of 9 medals.

But the joy of winning the medals was marred by the lack of support they received from our sporting organisations. To be able to compete, they were asked to raise £2,050 each.

What’s the problem? some of you may say, “They have plenty of time to raise the money.

Here’s the problem. Human routine means most people sleep at least part of the night and are active in daytime. Most people eat two or three meals in a day. Working time mostly involves a daily schedule, beginning in the morning and then some downtime in the evening.

That goes out of the window when it comes to preparing for the Deaflympics. They have to train almost everyday. It’s not a case of popping down to the gym and giving it a go on the treadmills. They have to overhaul their diet and fitness regime. They have to push themselves to the limit physically and mentally, because they’ll be competing against the best athletes in the world. Their stamina, willpower and determination will be tested every day.

When their long and arduous day is over, do they finally get to switch off and get some well earned rest, ready for the next day? No. They lie awake at night thinking about how they’re able to raise the money. They send countless emails to sponsors, organise fundraising events and take on some extra work to be able to pay the fee.

They’re faced with this dilemma.

Do I focus on the training and hope that I’ll be able to get funding, or shall I focus on the fundraising and hope that my body is fit enough to see me through the competition?

Don’t worry, there’s Government funding.

Actually, no… there isn’t. Well, at least not for the Deaflympians.

Why do they receive no funding? It’s not a matter of whether the organisations can afford it, because they can.

UK Sport logoMeet UK Sport.

‘The primary role of UK Sport is to strategically invest National Lottery and Exchequer income to maximise the performance of UK athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the global events which precede them.’ [1]

I did some research in their budget to see if they had sufficient funding. They do. They gave £274,465,541 to the Rio Olympians, and £72,786,652 to the Summer Paralympians.[2]

This reeks of audism on a large scale. The macro-aggression exhibited by UK Sport is a constant reminder of how we still have a way to go until we can consider ourselves to be equal amongst our Olympians and Paralympians counterparts.

Macro-agression – the colonisation of the social, cultural, political, linguistic, educational, and economic systems to establish, reflect, and reinforce the dominance of the hearing majority.

The Deaflympics is an established International Olympic Committee-sanctioned event. So why aren’t our athletes treated with the same level of respect as the others are?

I contacted UK Sports to see what their response was and unsurprisingly, it was met with a resounding silence.

The government should recognise that all athletes have a right to compete and therefore should receive equal funding as their hearing counterparts. The Deaflympics was established in 1924, whereas the Paralympics was only setup in 1960.

In 1955, the CISS (now known as the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf – ICSD) was admitted into the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as an International Federation with Olympic standing.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and IOC formalised an agreement in 2001.

We’ve been competing for 62 years with Olympics standing, and the Paralympics have only 16 years to their name and the difference in support is staggering. They have global support, televised games, merchandise, and revenue. Don’t get me wrong. I’m pleased that they’re receiving support and recognition for all the hard work they’ve put in, and rightly so. But where’s our recognition and support as well?

During the Deaflympics, several tweets were sent out to the Prime Minister asking for recognition which, mind the pun, sadly fell on deaf ears. The Prime Minister had previously commended Britain for its superb performance in the Olympics and Paralympics.

When I said this was audism on a large scale, I didn’t mean nationally… I’m talking globally.

Meet Hannah Britton.

Hannah Britton - AUS Deaflympican SwimmerHannah Britton, 23, from Lismore, NSW, is a swimmer and set a new Australian deaf record in the 50-metre breaststroke last year. She swam in the finals at the National Championships for the Paralympics trial but was unable to take part because Deafness wasn’t included in their categories.

“It’s disappointing. We have some athletes winning medals at national events, but none of them are being given the chance to go further. What I mean by this is that they’re not getting sponsorship, training or competitions opportunities in Australia or overseas in preparation for the Deaflympics. However, other athletes were invited onto talent ID squads to train with elites and compete in other events if they didn’t make it to Worlds Championships or the Paralympics. The Olympians and the Paralympians received full funding and grants; it was a struggle for us but eventually we managed to raise some through various fundraising events. I feel like the government and sporting organisations don’t see us as athletes. We are Australian athletes and we deserve equal support and access.

Why are Deaf athletes being overlooked and disrespected? It isn’t just the lack of support leading up to significant events, it’s the lack of respect afterwards. The Hindustan Times wrote an article about the Indian Deaflympians who returned to India after having competed in what may very well be one of their finest moments ever in their sporting career – respectively winning five medals – to find that not one single official bothered to turn up to welcome them. [3]

“The day we won the medals, we told the government that we have made the nation proud. These medal winners made the nation proud, but no one, not even the sports minister, is here to welcome us.

The athletes decided this wasn’t acceptable and staged a protest at the airport. Years of preparation and training, sweat and tears in the name of their country, and not as much as a nod? Mounting attention from the press put pressure on the government to send Dilip Singh, a project officer with Sports Authority of India (SAI), to the airport to receive them, six hours after they landed. Could you imagine this kind of thing happening to the National team? I don’t think so.

These are just two incidents I’ve picked from the top of my head. Deaf athletes all over the world are currently being denied the opportunity to perform at an elite level. Sports participation makes a profound and positive impact on individuals, communities and wider society. It strengthens social networks and community identity, and a sense of belonging.

It is incredibly important for sports organisations and the government to give the next generation of elite level athletes the best chance to succeed, with fundraising and recognition playing a key part.

  • At the time of going to press, the GB Deaflympians have received an invite from MP Dawn Butler and they are attending to a Parliamentary Welcome at the House of Lords tonight.

[1] How UK Sport funding works – UK Sport

[2] Historical Funding Figures – UK Sport

[3] Indian Deaflympics team returns home to apathy, stages 6-hour protest at airport – Hindustan Times


  1. I still feel the answer is to incorporate Deafalympics into a category of the Paralympics – the argument of there being fewer sports to compete in is weak considering Britain only participated in 5 sports in Samsun, due to strategic planning of funds entering athletes where they are likely to succeed.

    If we want to celebrate, and get the recognition are sports people deserve – perhaps we need to embed ourselves in the bigger widely-watched events already there. Once that happens and we are visible then we can affect change.

    This lack of funding / recognition is not a new issue, in fact we seem to be hitting the same old argument. We have many talented deaf sportspeople who are not getting their opportunities, perhaps its time for CISS to swallow their pride and “play the game”.

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