sneaky-businessI heard a very strange rumour yesterday that Deaf Services Queensland is taking over/going into partnership (Tick which is appropriate.) with Better Hearing Australia, Queensland Branch.  I have not been able to confirm what is happening and it may well turn out to be untrue but this is not the point of the article. The point is that when things like this occur it is always the consumers that are last to know. That these organisations exist to support Deaf and hearing impaired consumers is an issue that bypasses the brains of the big-wigs.

Now I do not advocate that every little decision made by our services and advocacy organisations be approved by the consumers but when the decisions that are being made impact on the very direction and culture that these organisations are taking then consumers need to be consulted as a matter of course. The consumers need to be consulted at the very beginning of the process not at the very end. This generally does not happen.

What really happens is that the process is taken to the very end. It’s all very cloak and dagger. Decisions are virtually cemented in stone; all that is needed is the signatures. Most probably the signatures have already dried on the paper. THEN and only THEN do consumers hear about it. It is announced with much fanfare and celebration, consumers are told it will happen and what wonderful benefits they will receive. Usually only a select few consumers are invited. Nice people who will agree with everything, smile, enjoy the free sandwiches and wine on offer. They will then go home with no objections and the powers that be will continue on their merry way.  A few weeks later an official announcement is made and the powers that be will claim extensive consultation occurred.

Now this may sound cynical but I have been witness to this sort of thing.  I have sat as a Director on many occasions and I can tell you that the most oft mentioned word is HUSHHHHHH!!! Often you are required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Sometimes you are required, as a Director, to sign papers that state you are unable to say anything untoward about the organisation or publicly disagree with any decision made. It’s all very hush hush. There are some who claim it’s absolutely necessary that confidentiality of Board Meetings be maintained – well in most cases I disagree.

A Board of Directors are appointed by its stakeholders and they represent these stakeholders. Now, for example, if I am appointed to the Board by the Deaf community, I represent the views of the Deaf community to that Board. If decisions are being made that are, in my view, contrary to the needs and wants of the stakeholders that I represent then it is important that I bring this to their attention to get their views and inform them as to what is going on. After all the organisation exists BECAUSE of these stakeholders not FOR them. This is a point that is 0ften lost on the powers that be.

The powers that be are often of the view that THEY KNOW BEST! That consumers need to be seen but not heard. That because the Powers that Be are on six figure salaries then THEY should be trusted, revered and respected for every decision that they make. This welfarish, controlling and entirely disempowering mentality of the powers that be is at the very root of the problems of many of these big charitable organisations. They believe they are there to dictate and inform not to SERVE.

Where confidentiality should come in is where Directors voice opinions. Sometimes they voice opinions that if heard by the consumers could lead to backlash and even personal attacks. In discussing issues it is only the issues that should be discussed; it should never be a case of so and so said. Rather it should be a case of discussing the issues and options that are on the table. These issues and options should be discussed and ultimately decided by the stakeholders and not just by the gang of six or seven people that form a Board of Directors. In short stakeholders should be extensively consulted over a period of weeks or months and not just informed what has been agreed a few days before or after the decision is to be or has been finalised.

Of course CEOs hate this approach because it means more work for them. They hate it because it takes time. They hate it because for some unknown reason many of the CEOs seem to think that the stakeholders they SERVE lack the intelligence and know how to really understand what is happening. Now I agree that you can not consult for every single issues that an organisation must consider but when the decisions impact on the very future and culture of the organisation it is the STAKEHOLDERS that should have the final say.

Let us say for example The Royal Institute for the Daft (RID) has decided to sell the land  that is occupied by the recreational buildings where the Daft meet several times a week. RID are in negotiations with Wigleys Chewing Gum School who want to buy the land. The land collectively is worth $30 million. Wigleys have put in an offer and the Board of Directors have to consider it. The Board are excited; by golly with $30 million perhaps they might even receive a sitting fee. The CEO is eyeing the prestige and the possibility of a pay-rise. Aside from these selfish reasons the Directors can see that $30 million can secure the future of the organisation, which is a very valid point.

In all of the excitement they realise that the buildings are heritage listed and to sell them they have to enter into sensitive negotiations with the Government. They don’t want anyone to know about the heritage issues because it might impact on the price of the sale. Again this is a very valid point. Brendan Boyce is a lone voice among the Directors. He wants the Daft to be informed and included in all discussions because, after all, they are the reason we are here. NO! NO! NO! Such a suggestion might jeopardise the sale, it’s beyond the Daft to grasp such complexities. The Directors and the CEO overrule Brendan … the sale must go through at all costs because it is the future of the organisation at stake as well as the sitting fees, the prestige and the potential pay-rise. 

The process takes its path. After 12 months of intensive negotiations and sensitive discussions to lift the heritage listing a sale is agreed.  Brendan reminds the Directors that they have yet to inform the Daft about the intention to sell or seek the Daft’s view of the possible sale.  He further raises issues such as where will the DAFT meet. What of their history, their community – Brendan wants to know how we will ensure they Daft are able to retain and maintain these things. The Directors overrule Brendan promising to consult with the DAFT as to how to best use the proceeds of the sale.

The sale is announced, the Daft are angry. They have lost their spiritual home. They want to know why they were not consulted. The Directors and the CEO are bemused… How can they be so ungrateful? They promise consultations as to how the money will be spent. Of course the consultations turn out to be nothing but meetings that inform the Daft HOW THE MONEY WILL BE SPENT.

 Having been a Director on numerous Boards I can tell you THIS HAPPENS! Stakeholders are the last to know. They are often seen as a hindrance to the process rather than a part of it. Personal ambition and gain are often paramount in deliberations- stakeholders are well down the pecking order. They are rarely consulted properly – They are told!! And we let it happen; I am not sure who is more to blame!

So members of BHA in Queensland… I don’t know if the rumour is true but I suggest if it worries you to start asking questions now. I suspect that if the rumour is true that the decision has been done and dusted and that you will be informed and not asked – the Directors and the CEO will have seen to that.

THE FRAGILE STATE OF DEAF SPORTS IN AUSTRALIA by Dean Barton Smith Olympian/Commonwealth Games/ Deaflympian

wbdeafjavlin_wideweb__430x292Did you know 20 years ago this country fielded it then largest Australian Deaflympic Team of 129 to attend the 1989 Deaflympic Games in New Zealand.

Did you know that just four years ago, this country proudly paraded its largest Australian Deaflympic Team of around 230 to attend the 2005 Melbourne Deaflympic Games.

In case you have missed it, Deaf Sports Australia (DSA) announced a few weeks ago it will be sending a team of just 46 Australian Deaflympians to participate in the 2009 Deaflympic Games in Taipei, Taiwan. This includes one photographer and not an Athlete Liaison Officer like what the Australian Olympic Team provides that adds more value / benefit to the team.

This massive reduction in team size got a lot of people talking. Words such as “Shocked”, “Disbelief’, “Concerned”, “Disappointing”, “Disillusioned” to comments such as “What happened?”, “This should not be happening” and “Where did we go wrong?”

I can vouch that the responses is not a reflection of the quality of those athletes within the 46.

One of the reason why the deaf sporting community wanted the Deaflympic Games to be held in Australia was not  so that it would allow them the opportunity to not only showcase our finest elite deaf athletes from around the world, but also to promote deaf sports in the mainstream arena, to provide education and awareness of how to deal with a person who is Deaf or hard of hearing, and to allow both the deaf community and the general public to embrace one another and remove barriers.

Little do people know that bidding, establishing and delivering the Melbourne 2005 Deaflympic Games was more than 20 years in the making. Yes – going back to 1985 Australia was in serious deliberation whether we should host this event. Hence the seed was planted. It was not until 1999 that we managed to secure the rights to host the Games. Unlike other Olympic / Paralympics cities (who operate with multi million budgets), all the work was all done voluntary. We spent the next few years ensuring that the event would be run ‘professionally’ thereby moving away from a voluntary run event to one that entails paid staff. The event itself was costed at $10 million not including free support. The result was that we delivered a very successful Games and a benchmark for other organisers to follow.

Achieving such success was critical not only for the event but for deaf sports future. This was our unique and ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to showcase ourselves as well as lift deaf sports in Australia to another level. It was seen as a chance for all in deaf sports to grow in size, to partner with mainstream sports and provide inspiration and hope for many Deaf and hard of hearing Australians who are isolated or yet to be introduced into sport / recreation.

However something appears to have gone wrong. In a couple of weeks we are now sending a team of just 46 (well 45 if you dont count the photographer) to the next Deaflympic Games. This is a major backward step to what was hoped after the 2005 Games. Yes – we have fielded  smaller teams before. Yes – when a country is hosting the Deaflympic Games they are automatically qualified in all sports. In other cases some sports (not all) have put in place a lower qualifying standard in order to allow young people the opportunity to compete as a building block for the future. This of course assisted in providing a larger team size in 2005. Yes, having the Games in Australia will alleviate the need to undertake a larger amount of fund raising than required. However, even with these measures, we should still be able to field a team of at least 150.

Consider these facts: 

  • The cost to travel to Taipei is $6,000 per team member. The cost difference (2005 and 2009) is really the cost of international airfare which is not that much different to what was paid to go to the 1989 Deaflympic Games in New Zealand (taking into consideration cost back then)
  • There appears to have been no succession planning to continue with the build up after the Melbourne 2005 Deaflympics.
  • There was no talent identification programs to recruit potential new deaf athletes. This should have occurred immediately after the 2005 Games. Or at least prior to.
  • Fund raising did not occur until late 2007/2008. This is a critical area that greatly impacts on the size of the team and an issue that was high on the agenda when a national Deaflympic review was undertaken by DSA in 2001.
  • Whilst M2005 received $8+ million in funding, DSA received $150,000 from the organising committee. Later DSA received $400,000 from the Federal Government for the Australian 2005 Deaflympic Team. (far less than what the Olympic and Paralympic received)
  • Whilst the M2005 Games ran on budget, around $400,000 in surplus was achieved which was to go back into DSA and also Victoria. After a lot of red tape these funding have only just become available.
  • DSA still receive federal funding that barely covers operational cost (I’m told around $80-$100,000 is received a year) and any increase has been minimal compared to the likes of $20+ million over four years that is allocated to other disability sport. Yet ironically the size of the deaf population (3.5 million +) far exceeds what other disability groups in Australia. Base on this market size and the funding that DSA received that’s about .03 cents per deaf person in Australia and the Government expect them to be engaged in sport/recreation, win countless medals (or at least resolve the obesity crisis)
  • In consultation with one major national government department, there are at least 2,000 Australians between the age of 16-22 who have a hearing loss of 55db or greater in the better ear. If we just take 5% of that we would get 100 possible candidates for the Deaflympic Games. Let alone far more for other events such as the Australian Deaf Games.

 People are quick to point the finger at DSA for various reasons such as the perceived lack of leadership, skills and experience of the Board, the perceived lack of action to address issues such as fund raising earlier than later, the competence of the previous board of DSA up to and just after 2005 which are all understandable.

Then people are quick to point the finger at the Federal Government who some say don’t allocate enough funds in order to accommodate and capitalise the largest disability market in Australia.

Then people are critical of national / state deaf sporting associations of not ‘doing their bit’ and undertaking forward planning (as raised in the national Australian Deaflympic Team review in 2001). There is a view that they tend to operate with a short term focus and not something that should be looked at over 4-8 years.

Forward planning is essential for deaf sports in the future. In a media release put out by John Coates (President of AOC), he indicated that ‘we don’t plan every 4 years we plan every 8-12 years’. They have at least a $45m fund raising target and despite the economic situation they have achieved at least $38 million and feel confident that they can reach this target and beyond.

Clearly DSA need to show more leadership and drive and ensuring all deaf sporting associations (including mainstream) are working off the same page. In addition they need to develop a ‘national blueprint’ of what deaf sport should look like in 12 years time. Currently everything is short term focused.

It is not hard to do. However if some states or associations are not prepared to do this then I think DSA need to make some serious and bold decisions in the best interest of deaf sport future. The current model that has been operating for many, many years is simply not working and will continue to see a decline in deaf sports in the future. There need to be a much stronger and committed focus from all stakeholders with clear measureable outcomes. If we are not achieving the annual target then boldly make changes and remove the ‘deadwood’.

There are some signs that we are getting collaboration from state governments and that we have been able to utilise an estimated $400,000 of funds that were left over from the 2005 Deaflympics to allow us to develop programs but these will be short lived if we do not have a nationally committed approach. It is progress but we have missed the wave of opportunity to build on the success of the Melbourne Deaflympic Games.

I previously written to the President of DSA raising a number of these concerns. He responded (8 weeks later) acknowledging, amongst many things, that there is a need for greater collaboration between state and national associations (hearing and deaf) especially in the area of fund raising.

Sport in the deaf community break down barriers and provide a great outlet for sharing of information as well as benefit ones mental health and well being. These sporting communities have been around long before the likes of some deaf societies being built. In many cases some deaf sector organisations have been formed by these deaf sporting people. I would like to think that the deaf sector organisations would see the value of giving back to the deaf sporting community by really giving them much needed injection of funds to take them to another level. I don’t mean funds of around $5-$10,000 per annum. I mean serious funding support whereby it can establish robust programs and significant outcomes.

Two state deaf sports organisations, Deaf Sports Queensland and Deaf Sports Recreation Victoria have turned themselves around and done some impressive work to date but can they sustain this? They are severely limited to what they can do despite a very large market. We have other state deaf sports association who seem to be going a different direction and struggling. This is not healthy.

We don’t have a NSW Deaf Sports Association for over 4 years now. This should not be happening after hosting the 2005 Deaflympics. The NSW issue is a serious concern and DSA need to grab the bull by the horns because this state possess the second largest (depends on who you are speaking to) population in Australia. DSA should simply be proactive, appoint people on a newly established ‘branch of DSA’ whereby they report to the DSA Board (via its Manager) of progress etc.

Also I continue to be fascinated why the deaf sporting community don’t maximise their roles models and utilise them effectively in schools and other mentoring programs. By not engaging or having active people communicating and identifying current and future Deaflympians we are only doing ourselves no favours.

Four years after the Melbourne 2005 Deaflympics, and after millions have been spent on the event and awareness across the country, I continue to bump into young deaf children and their parents who have not heard of or been introduced to deaf sports. This staggers me and raises the question of whether we are doing things right. Four years later and we have yet to see a major increase in deaf people partaking in sport. The last Australian Deaf Games should have seen us with over 1,500 athletes plus officials. However we barely reached the same figure as when we hosted the Canberra (1997) or Sydney Games many years ago (and this was when the word ‘website’ was just coming out).

Around 5th September 2009, national deaf sports bodies will convene in Taipie, Tawain at the Congress for the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD) to discuss amongst many things a critical issue in regards to the future of deaf sports. They will need to decide whether a) To continue working vigorously in retaining the privileges of the name-Deaflympics by fulfilling the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requirements; b) return to the name of World Deaf Games with less restrictions and requirements or c) consider full integration with other disabled sport groups in the Paralympics. Each of these will have serious implications internationally and nationally.

Once the Deaflympic Games Flag is passed over from Melbourne, Australia to Taipei, Taiwan in September this year, we will be indicating to the world that whilst we have delivered a very successful Deaflympic Games we have not been successful in our deaf sports development program and the current size of our 2009 Australian Deaflympic Team indicates this. This will be sad reflection on Australian deaf sport history as we should be in a far better position today.