Deaflympics (formerly known as Deaf World Games,World Games for the Deaf, and International Silent Games) is an international multisport competition held every four years for elite deaf and hard of hearing athletes. It is closely modeled after the Olympic Games and is the oldest international sports organization for people with disabilities. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized the Deaflympics in 1955 as an “International Federation with Olympic standing.” Unlike the Paralympics and Special Olympics, there are no changes in the rules of events, nor are there special classifications for deaf and hard of hearing athletes.Visual cues such as flashing strobe lights for auditory starting signals are the only adaptations necessary. The Summer Deaflympics include fifteen sports: athletics, badminton, basketball, bowling, cycling, football (soccer), handball, orienteering, shooting, swimming, table tennis, tennis, volleyball, water polo, and wrestling. The Winter Deaflympics are held two years after the Summer Deaflympics (a practice the IOC adopted in the 1990s) and offers Alpine and Nordic skiing, ice hockey, and snowboarding.
History of the Games
Two deaf Europeans, Eugene Rubens Alcais of France and Antoine Dresse of Belgium founded the International Silent Games, now known as the Deaflympics, in Paris, France, in 1924. At the time of its founding, there were six official national federations for deaf sport in existence. Rubens Alcais and Dresse united these federations and created an international governing body, the Comité International des Sports Silencieux (CISS), to oversee the Deaflympics and world championships.
Athletes from the six countries of the official federations (Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Poland), along with those from Hungary, Italy, Latvia, and Romania competed in the first Deaflympics held 10–17 August 1924 in Paris, France. Sports included were athletics, cycling, football, shooting, and swimming. Women competed in these games from the onset.
The Winter Deaflympics was founded by Heinz Prochazka of Austria and held in Seefeld, Austria, from 26– 30 January 1949. There were five nations competing, with a total of thirty-three competitors. Athletes competed in Alpine skiing (men’s downhill, men’s slalom, men’s combined classification, and Nordic skiing—men’s 15km and men’s 3 5 10km relay).Women began participating in 1955 Winter Deaflympics in Oberammergau, Germany.
In 1933 the World Records Commission (WRC) was established to keep track of deaf world records in athletics and swimming. The WRC later added shooting, speed skating, and short-course swimming records.The Deaflympics awards gold, silver, and bronze medals for first-, second-, and third-place winners.The ICSD maintains records of all medal winners by individual, team, and country categories. In 1974 the CISS Museum opened in Rome, Italy, to showcase the long and rich history of deaf sports.
The CISS has undergone two name changes since its inception. Sourds (deaf) replaced Silencieux (silent) in 1979 as voted by the Twenty-fifth CISS Congress. It then was changed to the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD) in 2001 when the IOC approved the Deaflympics name change from Deaf World Games. An eight-member executive committee, all of whom are deaf, manages the ICSD. Deaf individuals must make up 51 percent of the membership of the national federations as mandated by the ICSD constitution. Membership has boomed since the first Deaflympics, from six to ninety countries representing deaf national sports governing bodies. Since its recognition by the IOC as an international federation with Olympic standing in 1955, ICSD and IOC have developed a productive and successful relationship. The IOC awarded the organization the Coubertin Olympic Cup in 1966, created by the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Baron de Coubertin, in recognition of ICSD’s strict adherence to the Olympic ideal and its service to international sports.
Other notable historic moments include the election of Maria Dolores Rojas de Bendeguz of Venezuela in 1981 as the first deaf woman to serve on the ICSD executive committee. Dr. Donalda Ammons served as second vice president (1995–1997) and secretary general (1997–present) of the ICSD Executive Committee and is currently its interim president.The IOC honored former ICSD president Jerald M. Jordan in 1995 with the Olympic Order—the highest award the IOC can give to any person—for his outstanding work of nearly a quarter century in the true spirit of the Olympic ideals.
Significance of Deaflympics
The Deaflympics is unique in that it is organized and governed by and for deaf people.The only classification necessary to compete is one must be deaf or hard of hearing (a loss of 55 decibels or greater in the better ear). Hearing aids are not permitted in competition in order to maintain a level playing field among athletes. Deaf people consider themselves a cultural and linguistic minority, not “disabled,” as is typically the view of nondeaf people. Only when competing in the nondeaf world where communication is spoken is the deaf athlete at a disadvantage. Hence, Dr. David Stewart stated that “deafness is a communication disability in the hearing society” (Jordan 2001, 55).
The Deaflympics also serves as a rich cultural and social event for deaf people from all over the world. Deaf people tend to communicate with each other using international sign language and/or their national sign language. Over 3,000 deaf athletes from eighty countries competed in the 2001 Summer Deaflympics in Rome, Italy. An average of 5,000 spectators daily, the majority of whom were deaf, attended these games. More than 4,000 athletes from ninety countries are expected to compete in fifteen different sports at the 2005 Summer Deaflympics in Melbourne, Australia.The Winter Deaflympics, although smaller than the summer games, also draws large crowds from every corner of the globe.
The Deaflympics continue to prosper and expand. The ICSD is working with the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) to develop a mutual working relationship in providing financial parity for the Deaflympics while maintaining their autonomy.The Deaflympics is a cultural event as well as one that provides the opportunity for deaf athletes to excel at the pinnacle of elite competition among other deaf athletes.The Deaflympics are truly a celebration of the Olympic ideals that the IOC continues to recognize.