The Australian Deaf Games – More than just SPORT!!

1000 or more people attended for the Australian Deaf Games in Geelong from the 14th to the 21st January. What a time they had! New friends were made, old friends reacquainted. Parties were had, ceremonies attended. Relationships flourished and love blossomed. For the Deaf who attended, and a large smattering of hearing people too, it was a social Utopia. Somewhere in there 16 sports competed for the John Lovett Cup but the sport seemed almost inconsequential.

Those who attended had a blast. Social Network sites were alive with comments about the great time that people had. To all who attended the Games must have seemed a smooth flawless a operation. Everything was organised and ready. The City of Geelong made millions from the Games for a relatively tiny outlay. Accommodation was paid for, cars hired, food eaten at restaurants, taxis caught to venues, tourist attractions visited and merchandise purchased. Make no mistake Geelong made a mint. 1000 deaf people turned Geelong into a virtual Deaf town for a week. Yet again Deaf people demonstrated just how much they contribute to the economy.

And all of this was organised by Deaf people and two full-time employer’s at Deaf Sports Australia. I was fortunate to be part of the Games Organising Committee. My role was transport. Other roles included Volunteers coordinator, interpreter coordinator, venues coordinator, sports coordinator, medical coordinator, finance coordinator, events coordinator – Nearly all of these roles and responsibilities fully voluntary and manned by Deaf people. Consider that many of these positions during the 2005 Deaflympics  in Melbourne were FULL-TIME PAID POSITIONS.

Despite the outward appearance of efficiency it would be misleading to assume that the Games were organised without hitches. There were problems, lots of them. There were financial scares. There were conflicts. There were complaints. There were last minute scrambles to fix problems. But with aplomb the Games Organising Committee handled them all and for the most part everyone who attended the Games had very little to worry about except to rock up and have a good time.

Sure it can be done better. I know that some sports became very frustrated, even angry that things needed to be fixed at the last minute. Strong words were said. A few tears shed but still these issues were overcome. In the background there is always drama but it is how you handle this drama that is important. Whatever was thrown at them the Games Organisers dealt with and full credit to them for that. Yes for some it was very hard but we live and learn. What we have all learnt will make the next Deaf Games even better. All of this will come out in a review of the process. Whatever mistakes were made, let’s not take away from all the members of the Games Organising Committee who all did a marvellous job.

What the Games highlighted to me, apart from the fact that the Deaf community is alive and well, was the vast array of talent that exists among Deaf people.  I can’t say just how much the Games cost but it is likely to be in six figures. It would not surprise me if one calculates all the voluntary contributions and in-kind suppport that it was in excess of half a million dollars. Sponsorship needed to be obtained, registration processes set up, online payment systems established, websites developed, accommodation and transport sourced, the Games promoted, insurance organised day to day logistics worked out and dealt with – The list goes on and on. And nearly all of this was done by Deaf people.

Many organisations would employ event organisers to do this. Consider for example that as part of organising the Games more than thirty meetings were had. This is just the Games Organising Committee. Many other meetings occurred through Deaf Sports Australia. And then of course there were the countless meetings that were organised as part of the host city bidding process. What a process that was with Geelong pipping Wodonga by the skin of its nose. The Games organising Committee exchanged in excess of 3000 emails. This band of skilled and dedicated volunteers saved Deaf Sports Australia hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Indeed I took the Liberty of researching how much an event organiser charges. It can be anything between $75 to $150 an hour. Some charge per person through the gate. Some charge a percentage of the overall turnover. Either way Event organisers are NOT CHEAP!

Let’s say 30 meetings at three hours each, that’s 90 hours. Consider that each individual Games Organising Committee member probably spent an additional 50 hours organising their particular portfolio. 10 times 50 and that is 500 hours. During the games 10 GOC members were on duty all day for 8 days as well as DSA staff and Board, the hours that they put in cannot be calculated. Myself as transport coordinator I was, for the first three days, working 15 hour days with little respite. Pre-Games meetings and individual portfolio responsibilities alone, if charged at the lower rate of $75 an hour would have cost Deaf Sport Australia $44 250. How do you calculate the value of the volunteer interpreters, 96 day to day volunteers, sports conveyors organising the day to day sports program … The cost is easily in six figures. And all of this by Deaf people!

And how much did the State Government contribute to the running costs, well AI Media captioning at the Closing Ceremony said $15 000 but I read Andrew Welshe’s signing at the closing as $50 000. Either way it was a paltry amount for what is one of the oldest sporting events in the world. But money didn’t matter. By hook or by crook DEAF people made it happen. By sheer skill and perseverance they put on a Games which were enjoyed by the majority of all who attended.

This skill and tenacity is what exists in the Deaf community and among DEAF people. Now why isn’t our Deaf sector head hunting these Deaf people to work for them? Their sheer passion and commitment alone is worth its weight in gold. Deaf people have talent in spades, its time our Deaf sector used this talent and PAID for it. Well done the games Organising Committee – You made the impossible possible and it was no FLUKE!