Did 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.