Irena Farinacci has been involved with Deaf sport for nearly two decades. She has represented Australia with distinction in Deaf Basketball at the Deaflympics 1997 Denmark and 2005 Melbourne. Since 2008 she has worked with Deaf Sports Australia as Sports Development Officer. She is one of Australia’s most experienced advocates in the area of deaf sport. In her time she has seen many changes. She has real concerns for the future of deaf sport and asks the question – Is it time for change?
The first Deaflympic Games were held in Paris in 1924. They are recognised as the second oldest multi sports event in the world. Yet despite this long and proud history, in recent times the Deaflympics have struggled. Much of this comes back to the exposure that is being received and the funding such exposure generates. As Irena explains the history her eyes light up with passion. Her concern for the future is apparent.
To understand the challenges of the Deaflympics Irena compares it with the Paralympics. The first Paralympics were held in 1948. This was the Stoke Mandeville Games and consisted of a small gathering of returned British service men who had been injured during the war. Ironically these Games coincided with the London Olympics. Since that time the Paralympics have grown and in the current day and age they receive enormous exposure and coverage. Not only that they have received funding to match. Many of the Paralympic athletes have become household names. Not so the Deaflympians.
Irena wants a world where Deaf and Hard of Hearing-athletes are treated equally. She imagines a world where Deaf and Hard of Hearing athletes have the opportunity to showcase their abilities on the world stage. On this world stage there is wide reaching media exposure and more importantly, adequate funding.
For Irena, athletes who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing should aspire to a world where Deaf sport is televised to millions. She can imagine Deaf and Hard of Hearing athletes from Australia receiving their medals to stadiums full of cheering people. She can imagine Deaf athletes as the darlings of the media much like Louise Sauvage and Kurt Fearnley. She wants to see deaf athletes elevated to role models to the millions of aspiring athletes who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing around the world
But she wonders – Can this happen for real in a Deaflympic Games?
“If the Deaflympics are to prosper”, muses Irena, “Perhaps they need to really examine exactly why the Paralympics are so successful.”
One of the reasons for the success, believes Irena, is the strong collaboration between various sporting bodies for people with a disability. She points out that the Paralympics organising body consists of a number of strong peak sporting groups. These include:
•International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS)
•The International Blind Sports Association (IBSA)
•The International Sports Federation for People with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID)
Irena explained that, “Each of these organisations is responsible for the hosting and running of regional games and these are overseen by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). This provides athletes the opportunity to embark on pathways that are available to them. This is especially so in the lead up to the Paralympic Games. “
The IPC performs the same task for the Paralympic Games that the Olympic committee does for the Olympic Games. They organise the winter and summer events and select the cities where the events are held. The Games are always held immediately after the Olympic games. The IPC governs the rules under which the athletes compete. It resolves any disputes within the Committee. They not only organise the events but they also determine the categories of the competing athletes.
The IPC and the Paralympics are clearly a strong, influential and powerful entities. Irena notes that the ISCD (International Sports Committee for the Deaf) do not take part at the Paralympic Games, and the reason for this is because they believe that the requirements of participating in the Paralympics are not really relevant to athletes who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
Irena has marvelled how over the past 10 years that both the Olympic and Paralympic movement have grown from strength to strength. This is the complete opposite of the Deaflympic movement where we have seen constant scandals; the most recent being the cancellation of the Slovakian Winter Deaflympic Games and the Athens Summer Deaflympic Games.
There has also been declining government and corporation support due to preference given to the Olympic and Paralympic events. At the same time the enormous costs of hosting the Deaflympics has meant many countries have baulked at wanting to host and take responsibility for the Deaflympics. Even though the next Deaflympic Games are being held in Turkey in 2017, there is constant uncertainty as to where future Deaflympics Games will be held.
Irena worries that while there are growing numbers of Deaf and Hard of Hearing athletes competing at each Deaflympic Games, they face constant struggles to raise funds, and at the same time they are confronted with uncertainty as to whether the Deaflympics will actually go ahead or not. Perhaps it would be beneficial if there were opportunities for the ICSD to showcase these athletes in a major event like the Paralympic Games. The exposure would be immense.
The Deaflympic Games is the second oldest International multi-sporting event in the world and it is struggling to retain its relevance. Irena asks – What is happening here?
In Irena’s view the Olympic and Paralympic movement have been open to change. They have been willing to take risks to work together to create a powerful movement to inspire people around the world through sports. Perhaps this is something that International Sports Committee for the Deaf and other Deaf sporting groups need to emulate.
Irena argues that it is time for the Deaflympic Games to join the Paralympic movement. This, Irena believes, will mean that Deaf athletes will be part of a larger global sporting force. It is this force that will bring athletes from all walks of lives and abilities together in the spirit of great sportsmanship. More importantly it will provide the exposure and funding to Deaf and Hard of Hearing athletes that is currently sadly lacking.
For Irena, the greatest benefit of joining the Paralympic movement is that athletes who are Deaf and hard of hearing would be guaranteed inclusion in a massive and prestigious 4 yearly event. The worry of where the next Deaflympics will be held and indeed whether they will actually happen would be a thing of the past. It will mean that the selection process would be tougher but there will be greater support to identify and prepare athletes who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing so that they are at optimal level come the Games.
But the biggest benefit is the profile and exposure that the Paralympics provide. A deaf athlete with the profile of Kurt Fearnley is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Is it time? Irena believes that it is.
This article expresses the personal views of IrenaFarinacci, and it is in no way a reflection of the views of Deaf Sports Australia.