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.


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

  1. Its a thought provoking article.. however realise this that the 80’s and 90’s were the “heyday” of deaf sports in Australia for various reasons. The last ADG was plagued by rumours of whether it was on or off in the lead up, causing many people to stay away but next one is looking really good having seen some of the excellent planning going on. Current economic climate contributes to numbers of the Taiwan campaign, 2005 was a massive high for all involved. the NDSO’s maxed out their time and energies for 2005 afterwards let go a bit .., cant blame them … Deaf sports struggles to grow as theres too few chiefs with sufficient time to volunteer their expertise. and the deaf community is becoming more and more fractured. We do the best we can (I’m secretary of Deaf Volleyball Australia, I know theres a lot of things we can or should do, but dont have the manpower and time to do it..).. Getting Govt attention these days and fundraising is tougher than ever with zillions of other sports groups competing for the same attention. The current DSA board is the strongest I’ve ever seen (over 25 years) Future is bright. .. They are putting in place groundwork with MOU’s and things, working hard on establishing NSW deaf sports unfortunately there seems to be very few people in NSW with initiative… cant force people to do anything they cant be bothered to do can we?… Dean you have the passion, the expertise, I’d hope you’ll be able to find a spot within Deaf Sports to help us we need all hands on deck, the people with the “Right Stuff”…

  2. I think what Dean has done is put some issues on the table for people to consider. As Dean loves to say .. he has drawn attention to the elephant in the room. It is unfortunate that there are too few people about who are prepared to ask the hard questions. John has tried to answer some of those questions and has come up with some relevant and sometimes depressing answers.

    It is true that as volunteers there are too few people willing to put their hands up. It is also true that we can perhaps make the mistake of saying I am a volunteer there is only so much that I can do. We know that the Deaf Games and Deaf sport are cornerstones of the Deaf community. perhaps we need to stop farting around and try to answer some of these hard questions that Dean has asked.

    Perhaps we could have done it better. Perhaps we got too complacent. Either way we need to look back and perhaps say ask ourselves .. Where did we go wrong? Why did we make better use of the opportunities that presented as the result of the Deaflympics 2005? What mistakes did we make? Whats the best way forward? Ask these questions without a culture of blame but rather one where we pool talent and ideas and move forward. At the same time analyse what we are doing well because as John said there is a lot of good happening.

    I know as President of Deaf Sports and Recreation Victoria and having worked hard with the DSRV Board and workers over the last few years to get DSRV on a stronger footing the state government has ASKED .. What happened to the energy of 2005? In 2005 there was so much energy and it died. Only now is it conming back. Why? These questions were asked of DSRV and they are questions that need answering.

    I work with DSRV and DSA and I know they are an extremely committed group of people. However lets not hide behind the veneer of volunteerism .. Mistakes have been made, things could have been done better .. Be honest, analyse and move forward.

    Yes Dean is like a dog at a bone. Constantly gnawing away but a lot of what he says is valid and worth debating. Like John I hope we can bring him into the fold and use his enormous passion and energy to move Deaf sport forward.

  3. The heyday has passed by us. The peak of the rubella epidemic graduated high school in 1985–the second of two largest graduating classes in 95+% of deaf schools in the U.S.

    I’m sure the same goes (close to if not the largest) for the deaf in non-deaf settings (both self-contained classes or deaf in the actual mainstream) just before the 90-10 deaf school-mainstream trend reversed.

    Twenty-five years has passed by. Do the math: 25 + 18 years old = 43 years old. The aforementioned is one among many reasons attributed to the decline of Deaf Sports in the U.S. if not internationally.

    I’m Deaf and a native user of ASL. My parents deposited me in a state-run school for the deaf in which I transferred out to a Federal-run, national-enrollment secondary school for the deaf. My stay wasn’t long. I left with a heavy heart. I graduated from high school after three years in the “actual” mainstream. One of numerous weakness in the U.S. Deaf Sports community is the narrow-minded blame of mainstreaming towards the decline.

    Let me share with you something about double standards. Unintended or not it happens.

    For mere instance, Dr. Donalda K. Ammons (that time with the AAAD, now USADSF) came to the state-run Maryland School for the Deaf (her alma mater) to give a talk on the WGD for the school’s Pee Wee chapter of the National Association of the Deaf.

    Dr. Ammons gave a very wonderful talk and the materials on hands were outstanding. But, there was one eye-opener. It was already 11 years since passage of the public law on mainstreaming and she was blaming mainstreaming for the decline of deaf sports.

    One of my greatest abilities is insight, objectivity and Devil’s Advocacy. These gifts of mine enraged many in the Deaf community–especially biased types. I was divided on this subject. I already knew about the likes of Jeff Float and many others from the global mainstream. I wanted to bring up this but I was told by a staff not to raise more trouble. Dr. Ammons rightfully admonished us to keep the WGD drive. In retrospect I think her intentions in bringing up the topic of mainstreaming (as a side note) were good but she could’ve been balanced in her remark about the deaf in the mainstream. Top-notch elite athletes are much often produced by the mainstream (and higher caliber of competition). If not for deaf in the mainstream the U.S. Deaf sports movement especially in sports not covered by deaf schools will amount to just nothing. It’s time for biased types to admit it.

    As long as the mainstream deaf are treated like second class off the sporting venue they won’t return to competition and/or leadership in deaf sports. Plain disenfranchisement. Precedent clearly established this. Mark my word. Another reason is choosing reactivity not proactivity. Just a nasty habit of the U.S. Deaf Sports community. Why wait. Do now.

    Dean Barton Smith – I’ve read about you and admire your works. You’re a hero to many.

  4. Did we not see American judges in one Olympics trying to oppose non-signing deaf ? A lot of people feel the criteria for inclusion is arbitrary too, deaf community (If you accept there is such a thing), then includes many people of wide variations of hearing loss. African nations sent hearing participants to Australia lol…. I don’t see how mainstreaming contributes a single thing to this debate, the degree of loss is still the same. Participants are there for sporting reasons not cultural ones. British contributions this year well down, as young deaf no longer are interested in deaf sports, there is no real club ethos these days to promote it, we see clubs advertising in hearing areas for people to come in. Of course the UK now opposes the deaflympics and has withdrawn funding too.

    • MM deaf sport is generally very welcoming and social. It is also enormous fun. By taking a few isolated incidents you tarnish all with one brush which is terribly unfair. There is a lot going for the Deaf community. You may have had a negative experience or view of it but foir many it is an enormously positive thing.

      I live for the day when I see you post something positive up here. I am all for highlighting things as they are but your general tirade of neagtive comments does your intelligence and general awareness of the issues no justice.

  5. Just shoot the messenger, the issue don’t go away. I’ve published no lies, the comments are backed up by deaf people here… If I find something positive I’ll let you be the first to know 🙂

  6. You could of course log in to ‘MM unleashed’ on my site, where nothing negative gets aired… there’s no yin without yang unfortunately..

  7. Mainstreaming has nothing to do with degree of hearing loss. Within both deaf schools and mainstream settings there are pupils with hearing losses ranging from mild to severe. The difference is the attitude of the Deaf Establishment towards the mainstreaming types.

  8. One wonders what they feel about the British decision to drop support for the deaflympics in favour of inetgrating deaf with the paralympians ? Deaf must be the only sector who are allowed to enter the 3 major olympics AND the ‘special’ olympics too. It needs clarifying. A number of HoH rejected by the deaflympics are entered into the main event, yet only a few db seperates them…

    I often wonder what the hell the olympic credo is really about…. whilst I can accept e.g. someone in a wheelchair cannot run the 100 metres, there is no reason whatever a deaf person cannot. I Keep getting the image deaf aren’t competing against hearing at all, and cannot see why this happens. That it may project that image of deaf doesn’t do us any favours either… Opposition to participation/access on cultural grounds seems a smoke-screen for not actively campaigning for inclusion. This is the 21stc surely they have sorted out the starting pistol issue by now ?

  9. Hi Dean,

    Thank you for your article. I had no idea that N.S.W. Deaf Sports & Rec. Assoc. was non existance for four years!

    As you may know, similar state Assoc. don’t exist in A.C.T. and Tasmania when previosuly they had existed (alibi for a short few years). They too ceased to exist soon after hosting the Australian Deaf Games in their respective State/Territory.

    For your article, I’m interested to know whether any interviews were carried out with current and prior people who are or were prominant members of Deaf Sports Australia, as well as with some National and State Deaf Associations?

    Warm regards,

    Miles Sullivan

  10. Hi Dean

    Thought provoking,controversial but to the point!

    As you know I am speaking from outside of Oz but with an ‘association’ with Oz deaf sports, my own involvement with deaf sport as a participant and a coach, plus my ‘day’ job within the sports & leisure industry.

    So at the risk of adding to the controvesty …. surely what we are aspiring to facilitate for deaf athletes is the opportunity to participate in sport at the highest level that the individual aspires to participate at? Please note I am making no comment on an individual’s ability.

    For this to happen the right structure needs to be in place with the appropriate forward thinking and sustainable vision. It does appear that such a structure is already in place, that is more developed than the structure for deaf sport … the paralympic struture!!!

    At the World Games in Sofia I was fortunate to share a drink or 3 with some international delegates who were visiting the games to explore the benfits of developing an international sporting environment for ‘all disabilities’. I know this discussion was still taking ongoing at the World Swimming Championships in Bruges (I was with a successful Australian Swim Team).

    So what has happened? The deaf sporting community did not want to participate and the Paralympics has grown from strength to strength, both in the size of the event and (importantly) in the profile of the event. The latter being important when it comes to education and fund raising. (A paralympian swimmer was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year! Has anything comparable been bestowed on an athlete from the Deaflympics?)

    The National Governing Bodies of Sport as part of their ‘Whole Sports Plans’ have to include the development of disability sporting structures for their respective sport.

    So what is my point?
    To provide the best opportunities for our deaf athletes should we look to work with other successful ‘disability’ sporting organisations instead of trying to ‘go it alone’?

    As part of a wider disability sporting organisation the opportunity may present itself to speak with a louder voice to persuade National Governing Bodies of sport to include/share talent identification, coach support, elite support for disability sports.
    This should not spell the demise of national and state deaf sport organisations it should provide the catalyis for development and a stronger role for the national and state deaf sporting organisations to work with the national governing bodies of sport to assist in the delivery their respective programmes, many of which probably could be / are funded by national and state governments as part of sport delivering the wider equality and health agendas.

    I am not seking to take anything away from Dean’s article which, unfortunately, appears to paint an accurate picture of the current position, but to mearly add to the debate even if it does appear to be slightly outside the box!

    All the very best


  11. MM … There are other groups that have their own games based on their status and identity …World Jewish Games for example and the Transplant Games.

    The Deaf have no realy place in the paralympics. In the Paralympics the disabled athletes are elite athletes in their field. The skill to play wheelchair basketball or swim with one leg is a finely developed skill that makes these people elite athletes in their chosen area. It is not the same for Deaf who compete with no different skills apart from starting from visual cues or playing team sport without benifit of sound. It is patronising to disabled athletes and Deaf to dump them in one pool as it fails to recognise them as elite athletes or recognise cultural and linguistic aspects.

    The Deaf games is a gathering of a culturtal linguistic group more akin to the Jewish games. Arguably the cultural and linguistic gathering is of more importance than the sport. I don’t think people involved in trying to get money for the Deaf Games have enough focus on the linguistic and cultural side of things.

    I do agree that arguments about level of hearing loss are a little exclusive though. There are no easy answers to the criteria argument … Should they have more of a focus on participants who are actual members of the Deaf community rather than degree of hearing loss? Should it be a combination of both? It is difficult and any change to current criteria is likely to lead to even more reduction in participants.

  12. The Olympics IS a means of cultural expression through SPORT, but language and culture are not really essential to that. The fact remains deaf ALREADY participate in the paralympics (via mulit-disabilities), AND the main Olympics, this seems to fly in the face for a dedicated deaf version to be funded as stand alone.

    A sportspersons first drive is to compete against all comers. You want to run you don’t ask if the other runner is deaf as well ! I’ve no doubt the deaflympics will continue a while, I am doubtful the UK which started the thing for deaf will any longer be major contributors to it. America claimed they gave Brits food parcels !

    Any criteria should be along the sole lines of hearing loss, indeed the -55db (?) is already the yardstick NOT culture or language. If they start waving the sign criteria at people it will collapse. I still fail to see what language or linguistics has to do with sport…. surely this is trying to alter the Olympic criteria AWAY from sport to deaf politics ?

    As a cultural thing OK, I think the issue is completely different in sporting terms. There seems a conundrum amongst deaf they should just have their own version state funded here, while they are already participating in other ‘able bodied’ Olympics. I’d agree the paralympics is wrong for deaf people they aren’t disabled enough for that, they are ABLE to participate against hearing and should be so doing.

    It would be unfair competition to pit deaf against a person in a wheelchair. I think the world has moved on access-wise, just that some deaf haven’t or are unwilling. They fear for the loss of their history ? we should look as to WHY the deaflympics was set up, mainly because deaf had no access to the hearing one. The deaf don’t seem even today to be all that willing to campaign for inclusion. We read one aggressive sports body decalring “The deaflympics are on par with school sports, few if any of them have the times etc required to particiapte where it counts…”

    They were wrong actually, a number of deaf sports people have near olympic qualifying times, non-participation seems to work against the deaf then. British sports funders have now forced deaf into the decision in many areas, by stating we will help you participate in paralympics or other areas, but we aren’t funding a private party for the world deaf. We can beat hearing in sports, we should be so doing… that is our answer to these people. Beat them on the track.

  13. Since the posting of this article I have received many feedback, comments and suggestions from various forms from not only in Australia but as far as USA and UK. I think it is great to see such discussion happening so we can not only have a national perspective but also understand what is happening internationally.

    My response intends to focus on the issues that are occurring in Australia and hence will try and respond to the various comments to date.

    I will also respond to the other issues in regards to the global situation and the perception of the Deaflympic itself. Thinking further I can see how these issues can also have some ramifications in this country.

    Firstly in response to John Eagles initial comment….. yes the 80s and 90s can be regarded as the ‘hey days’ mostly because this was before we had the National Relay Service, email, mobile and internet (including Facebook) and the best way to find out information, gossip, news etc was to engage in sport as the grapevine back then which was ‘always fluid’ depending on who you are speaking to”. There is no doubt technology has had some impact on the deaf sport community and how they interact nowadays.

    I do remember the incident of the potential cancellation of the Australian Deaf Games. I believe you are referring to the Perth Deaf Games which was suppose to be held in January 2000 but it came to realize that many people would opt out from this event to stay with family / friends during the important year of change transition from 1999 to 2000. This forced Deaf Sports Australia to postpone the event until 2001 which whereby saw around 300 participants turned up. It was probably the lowest time for the ADG and can appreciate how many people started the rumor about whether the event should continue. Perseverence paid off when the ADG in Sydney a few years later revitalized the event.

    It is interesting prior to the ‘economic crisis’ people were actually admitting that work has yet to be done to start fund raising however as soon as the media indicated the GFC, it was interesting to see how quick people were willing to point the finger to GFC for blame when in fact they have not done much or any fund raising work at all. I think before we point the finger on a ‘environmental matter’ lets first ask ourselves just how much work has been done up until then. I reiterate their fund raising work only commenced around September 2008 (3 years after the 2005 Deaflympics and 12-14 months before the 2009 Deaflympics.). With so little time to raise at least $276,000 just to get a team of 46 to Taipei – not including training camp cost etc). That’s almost $23,000 per month for 12 months alone whereas it would have been $5750 per month over four years! I think we need to stop and reflect before we take the easy option and blame it on an evironmental factor that cannot be correlated and substantiated.

    Perhaps the current DSA Board may be strong but questions are being asked is it really effective? Are all these energy being put in the right place? Do we really have the right people with the right skills, right qualifications, right contacts and the right experience to make things really happen? Are we running on a treadmill and making very small progress or if the skills not right to make the right leap and bounds that deaf sports need. Are we really holding the DSA Board to account and measuring their performance (KPIs)? When was the last time you heard them indicate a specific (and measurable KPIs) goal will be achieved by a certain date? The reflection and outcomes of the last four years is example of what we need to think about. Tough as it may be but we need to ask why have we not made significant grounds?

    Yes we have some MOUs being signed up but this only occurred the last 12-18 months but again what we have seen as result of this. Again it is three – four years too late. I am of the firm belief that DSA is stretching themselves too thin, trying to be all things for everyone and not thinking innovatively and in a business like matter.

    There are also questions such as where is the junior development program that will allow us to build upon the next ADG and the Deaflympics. We do not have any or has there been any concerted effort to engage young deaf children from around Australia. In my time on DSA I regularly visited deaf schools and hearing impaired units in high schools across Australia just to talk ‘deaf sports’ and give them some options and motivation. Over the last four years this has not happened which is a real tragedy and again reflects on the profile of deaf sports and DSA as a whole.

    Robert mentioned some interesting points especially about the mainstream issue. Thanks for sharing then Robert. In a sense I can understand where Dr Donalda Ammons is coming from. In Australia, the mainstream issue was more heavily criticized by the Deaf community towards the education system rather than sport (correct me if I am wrong). However is some sense I can see how it has impact in Australia because as soon as ‘mainstream’ occurred Deaf and hearing impaired people became scattered across Australia and not clustered together as in the past. (for our overseas readers and FYI.. we have at least two Deaf schools in Australia and a number of hearing impaired units within primary and high schools.). However we know there is a vast number of potential deaf athletes (including children) ‘out there’ but it is very difficult to locate.

    Unfortunately in the early days I personally notice there was this mentality that unless you are ‘part of the Deaf community’ you wont grow or be fully engaged or accepted / let alone supported. I think this mentality need to change otherwise we wont grow and capitalize the vast richness of opportunities before us. It is happening albeit slowly. I don’t think the Deaf community should feel threatened but instead embrace it. This is where the leadership issue comes into play.

    Yes I have quite a few ideas and strategies than gave worked in the past. I have been cautioned however that some of my proposed initiatives and strategies could be taken advantage of as I need to protect my intellectual knowledge obtained to date. I can put a couple of examples of that should be done from a marketing/fund raising perspective.

    “MM” your critical views prompts me to reflect back during the first 17 years of my life being (and competing at least 10 years) in the mainstream community before I had the opportunity to represent my country for the first time at the 1985 Deaflympic Games in Los Angeles, USA.

    Firstly I totally agree there is no reason why a Deaf / deaf person cannot compete in the Olympics, Paralympics, Commonwealth Games, World Championships, Paralympic Games (if they have cross disabilities e.g.: Blind as well as deaf) etc. There are already Deaf people having achieved a collection of these (think Jeff Float, Terence Parkins, Frank Bartiollo, Cindy Lu Fitzpatrick..).

    However the interesting thing I found about the Deaflympics in 1985 was that whilst it was a major sporting event and yes it is also has some cultural significance there was also this spiritual effect. I don’t want to sound as if this religious or I have come out from some hippy camp but whilst my first 17 years of my life has been regarded as ‘challenging’ within the mainstream community, being amongst other Deaflympians (as well as deaf / hearing supporters) really opened up my eyes in regards to not just how I am perceived but also who I am as a deaf person as well as what I am capable of. competing, mingling and later socializing with other deaf people from around the world opens you up to a large amount of information and expose you to other deaf leaders in their own chosen field of endeavour which can be quite inspiring for a newcomer. I should add, strangley some of my personal best (and world record) individual performances in athletics had occured at the Deaflympics than the likes of Olympic and Commonwealth Games. Probably more so that I was comfortable in my surroundings and appropriate starting light facilities at hand.

    Up until that time I had no idea there was deaf lawyers, Olympians, doctors, teachers, professors, physiotherapist, CEOs etc etc. I was blown away as it diminish a lot on my initial misconceptions. Looking back this had an enormous impact on my self esteem and approach to life. Whilst I performed below par at the 1985 Games I returned four years (at the 1989 Deaflympics in New Zealand) later a very different and committed athlete. The rest is history.

    I continue to make contact with and build on my friendship with those at Deaflympic Games more so that I have during my time at the 1992 Olympic and two Commonwealth Games. This is not snobbery just a matter of chemistry, feeling accepted and understood. The same applies with the ADG. I have seen deaf people affected positively by being engaged in deaf sports whilst at the same time enjoy the challenge that mainstream sport offer to them. In some ways I see Deaflympics as a great platform for anyone want to take the ‘big step’ (Olympics).

    Regarding the UK funding situation. I understand that USA is experiencing the same problem. Whilst Australia is not officially ‘cut off’ from Government Funding the level of petty cash (which borders on patronizing) continues to be of concern. I understand that the UK Deaf Sports have decided to take the matter further and court action is pending to fight what is right.

    Responding to Miles Sullivan: Thank your mentioning ACT and Tasmania. The latter always continue feel left out of the loop. These areas do need to be looked at. I question whether it is possible for when the NSW branch is re-established that they could accommodate ACT for the short term. Ditto for Deaf Sports Recreation Victoria perhaps taking on Tasmania to keep the ‘communication and information flowing and build a base especially with schools there”.

    Your question about whether interviews were conducted when compiling this article. I am happy to say that my sources has come from the following:

    • My time as Director of DSA and led the first National Deaflympic Team Review in 2001 – including hosting a Deaflympic Summit – whereby the findings from my consultation/ research was put forward. Consultations was with all Deaflympic related sports across Australia including state sport associations. Findings/recommendation was made across the areas such as but not limited to fundraising, team selection, appeal process, team structure, forward planning
    • My time as Chairperson of the 2001 Deaflympic Team and Justification Committee which later resulted in the need to undertake a major review on team selection process and appeals.
    • My discussions with various members of the Board of DSA including pass staff of issues and barriers affecting in their role and for the sport as whole.
    • My countless meetings with stakeholders including state and federal governments to as far as some ‘close door’ meetings with certain Governors in Australia.
    • Being the Team Captain of the Australian 2005 Deaflympic Team allowed me to discuss and share issues of concerns affected by athletes and official (actually they approach me rather than the other way around)
    • Spoken with a number of state and national deaf sporting associations across Australia in recent times
    • And also spoken to past and emerging athletes in the future and this has been evolving and building up for nearly 8 years now. Not including the many emails, facebook responses and direct letters.

    So I think creating articles such as this do require the need to consult and obtain relevant information. I can appreciate some of the facts put together can be hard to fathom at first but they are accurate to date based on the information given.

    However I continue to be befuddled why DSA will not share their five year strategic plan despite repeated request in the past. As a tax payer funded organisation, such plan should be made public or at least provide a summary of what, where and how they intend to operate and more importantly what measureable targets are in place. To undertake this in a secretive manner does not help in engaging with the stakeholders and whilst they may say that they have consulted with their ‘Full members” the reall question is have they really consulted with the people who will be greatly affected and continue to be affected in the future. Have they consulted with people who possess extensive skills and experience and knowledge more so that what the entire board combined? Or is there another reason? Such culture is not healthy. You can’t be a leader if you dont have any reputable followers.

    Ian Munday, given your background and qualifications (as well as a respected Deaflympian from UK) you have provided some very good food for thoughts, I agree there is some scope for an alliance with the likes of the Paralympics whereby clear outcomes and benefits can be realized and capitalized. It may not mean merging with the Paralympics but can pivot off resource and programs that both can utilize. I understand the Paralympic structure may not be the ideal fit due to the various disability categories that they have to manage but could be modified to see where it fits best and build on that platform. I think they will gain more from us than use from them but we can also learn from things that have been tried and tested.

    In Taipie there is just over 4,000 athletes and officials merging together. A major leap in size. Comparing that with 5,000+ Paralympians makes around 9,000 which almost the same size at Olympic level. This should not be difficult accomodation wise if it was to reutilise what the host city of the Olympics has created, the issue is the sport program itself and ensuring the event is run without hassles and accessible. The exposure of the deaflympics will no doubt decreased as result of this merging as fight to gain media exposure across all disabilities occur. There is also the issue of ensuring deaf people are in position of influence including board level. The list continues. However I think there is scope to work with this organisation to identify mutual understanding and support but not to develop barriers and prevent growth.

    I think the bigger global issue in regards to the IDSC merging with the Paralympics requires careful thoughts involving reputable athletes who have seen both sizes as well as competed in some of their programs.

    Lastly in my response to “MM” last comment, I reiterate that deaf people have ‘exceed beyond Olympic standards” and later competed. Why is the Deaflympics set up in the first time? It came around a time of four deaf men in France deciding on hosting an international event in Paris for deaf sports from around the world. Without knowing the true rationale behind it was said that deaf people need have an event associated to them that understand their needs and be able to interact with other country members. It was also inspired after witnessing the Olympics being formed 4-8 years earlier.

    In 2009 Taipei Deaflympic, we will see over 4,000 athletes and officials walking in the Opening Ceremony. UK will be parading 120 athletes and officials, USA will be parading 141, Germany 157, Japan 154, Taipei 138…..Australia 45. (sigh!)

    Sorry this is long but had to address the various comments above. Hope to be more responsive in the future soon.

    Look for forward to further discussions, ideas and comments soon.

  14. Thanks MM of the link. I understand that in UK whilst deaf sports are struggling financially (and barely miniumal support from the govt) they have had to make drastic measures to acquired necessity funds to as far as making our personal loans. That is very sad to see and obviously a major rethink is required.However I understand that Deaf UK and their respective clubs are very proactive to getting funds as well preparing teams for the future. This is what we need to see here.

  15. Dean….thank you, thank you, thank you for being bold and brave to write this refreshing and critical article. It is what we needed. I have played deaf sport for many years and never been happy with how we have come since 2005.

    Looking at past comments, I have some points I want to make:

    I think the people in the posting who have a close association with ADSF need to stop trying to defend (or protect their ego) for fearing of biting the hands that feed you. It is obvious with DSRV not wanting to cause strain with DSA because of upcoming 2012 Deaf Austraia Games. Gary – your position and conflict with ADSF shows you want to water down the problem and not face it. That is not right. We should speak open and honest here not buffer/hide the problem.

    Looking at the Paralympic model and approach would be good. I have seen what they have done in the past and we could take some key bits out for the future.

    There is some cultural and attiudunal problems at present and we need to addrress this or we will have trouble growing.

    Deaf sports need high profile people (like on other sporting Boards) who have good reputation, successfull background in sport (and work) and inspire people. Dean is a very good case but why are we not taking advantage of what he has, his qualifciations and exceptional abilities in sport (Olympic, Deaflympic, Commonwealth Games), business and on board positions. He has knowledge and networks. Some is seriously wrong with the ADSF Board if they are not using him to lead. He is a extremly nice gentlemen, is humble and is able to develop strong rapport towards deaf children and knows how to get blood from stone.Who else is better?

    The ADSF Board has always been a strange and dysfunctional group more worried about their ego and keeping within a small mind group to expect to bow to their powers. I feel it is a poor reflection on ADSF Board for not looking after Dean properly after all that he has done for over 20 years.

    My bottom line is: ADSF Board need a major shake up. Dean to lead. I like the word ‘innovation’ and Im sure Dean can do that. I saw in a FaceBook posting between Dean and others and he had some excellent and innovative ideas. How refreshing!

    New President of CISS has changed. New people to come on. I hear all very happy and helps for big change. So should Australia.

  16. Claire I think in my first posting to this thread I actually fully supported Deans arguments …. so not sure where you are coming from.

    I don’t have any conflict with DSA (ADSF) either and actually work quite well with them . I don’t have the history of Deaf sport of Dean or probably yourself but even I can see the Deaflympics were a lost opportunity.

    I do think the current Board of DSA has a fairly good skill set that would be enhanced greatly with Dean somewhere at the front pushing his ideas and challenging.

    As I said in my original post the time for farting about and hiding behind the excuse of volunteerism is over. People need to honestly analyse what went wrong and try to find a way forward.

    Perhaps because I do not have the history of Deaf sport of some my emotional attachment is less. People avoiding the issues will not help and fully agree with you that Dean has had a raw deal.

    As DSRV President I know that the organisation was sinking fast and only by the talent and tenacity of its worker and Board is it still alive… healthier but a still not fully fit …

    DSA are in the same boat and its time that the energy that has been wasted on conflict, personalities and ego, as you say, was used to fuel the organisation not the individuals.

  17. Thanks for the latest postings to date. I think we are starting to focus on the ‘who’ when we need to know the ‘why’. Hence we need to look at the current system we have in place and what need to be addressed and how we could best go about it. I know there is no quick fix solutions but at the same time you can lookk at areas that are deemed weak and improve or replace them. This is what we need to do. With the way the 2009 Taipie Deaflympics is going at present, we should look at ensuring that we can at least pivot off this exposure as well as entice people for the next ADG in 2012.

    We obviously know that the current system is not functioning very well and not delivering the outcomes we expect. We need to start listing what these are and what alternative there may be. So lets offer some critical yet bold suggestions as we have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

    (I just want to make sure that DSRV and Gary are not being affected by this article or to be laid to blame for the effort to date. I am very conscious that DSRV has turn themselves around significantly over the past 2 years and to say that they have ‘arisen from the ashes’ is an understatement. I know it has been hard yakka and fortunately DSRV listened to the right people and appointed the right people to lead and make things happen. The amount of financial support and ‘partnerships’ achieved in the short amount of time is a reflection of my point raised in my article above.)

  18. Have noticed certain people responsible in deaf sports are not commenting on this blog but I know they are watching. If they had leadership they should comment and show they want to listen.

    We need major review of how deaf sports has been run. Review board skills, qualification, experience. Need junior program. Take over other states to run properly not Queensland and Victoria. All work together.

    I like Dean’s idea of separate body for Deaflympians led by real Deaflympians for Deaflympians – not wannabe administrators! Better focus, more opportunities and more respected.

    His other idea of Athlete Commission is overdue. Too often decision is made without consulting with athletes first.

    More use of role models. Not picked by current administrators but by Deaflympic / champion peers.

    DSA has done OK (not great, not good just basically ok). But we do need major change to take us up to another level. We need more horsepower, more leadership, more drive, more results, more impact, more participation and more growth.

    I won’t say any more as dont want certain people responsible to have it easy.

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