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Deaf women's football: The lowdown and the road to the Deaflympics

Damon Rose Damon Rose | 10:19 UK time, Monday, 21 January 2013

GB deaf women's football squad

The GB team need £50,000 to make it to the Sofia Games in July

Twenty-three year old Claire Stancliffe hopes to be going with the GB deaf women's football team to the Deaflympics this summer. With no national funding though, they're struggling to raise money to get themselves there. But many don't understand why deaf people want to play separately from non-disabled hearing people in the first place.

The 2009 Deaflympics were held in Taipei, Taiwan. Claire played at those Games which were attended by over 3,000 athletes.

"Their government spent 30 million pounds on just the opening and closing ceremonies," says Claire. "It was amazing and a once in a lifetime experience. The atmosphere was out of this world. I was being noticed and asked for autographs everywhere I went."

Women's deaf football was included in the Deaflympics for the first time in 2005; in 2009 the team came fourth in their event at the Games.

As in life, successful communication is the biggest challenge in deaf sport, rather than physical, cognitive or visual impairments that we're more familiar with from the Paralympics.

"It does take a while for the squad to understand certain tactics," says Claire about the training sessions. During gameplay, she says the referee has a whistle but also a flag: "Players cannot be penalised for continuing play unless it's obvious they saw play has stopped. The players who are aware that play has stopped will help by raising both hands above their heads."

When deaf people play together they can communicate more successfully as they use sign language and hand signals between themselves. But beyond that, Claire says she has a sort of sixth sense, a learned awareness, and can tell where other players are on the pitch even if she can't directly see or hear them.

"Recently we competed at Keele Cup and another manager said how amazing our awareness was and was wondering how he could improve his own team,"
says Claire. "But awareness is not something you can coach. Deaf individuals grow up and naturally learn to be aware."

She notes that deafness can affect balance in some players and others have difficulty playing in the dark.

Claire plays for AFC Rushden and Diamonds the (mainstream) women's football team. There is only one 11-a-side women's team in the country Fulham Deaf Ladies FC but no league due to the relative small number of players, hence many of the women come from mainstream sides.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Deaflympics is a new thing but it pre-dates the Paralympic movement by 36 years. The first big Paralympic Games were in Rome in 1960 whereas the first Deaflympics were in Paris in 1924.

At the Deaflympics, rules for all games are the same as standard rules. The main differences are that athletes must have a 55 decibel hearing loss in their better ear, and, when on the field they must not wear hearing aids or cochlear implants to ensure equal advantage.

There are no starting guns to begin races, instead a traffic light system is in place to indicate to the athletes when races start.

All funding for Deaflympics was stopped by UK Sport, the main funder for Paralympics and mainstream sports, back in 2008 as budget priorities got tighter with London 2012 in sight. A small amount of national fundraising for grassroot development does remain.

The vice chair of UK Deaf Sport, Stuart Harrison, understands the budget change but sticks up for deaf sports people in competition. Controversially he says that at the Paralympics "the spectacle of them being mobility impaired is a higher draw than wanting to see them get their times down. With deaf sport it's about the times."

The summer Games are to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria, from July 26 to August 4.

The deaf women's football team have an estimated 50,000 pounds to raise and are not even half way towards their target.

Claire, whose day job is sports coach to primary school children, is presently trying to raise money for herself and has received support from Liverpool FC, West Bromwich Albion, donations from the public, and hopes to hold an event with Rushden and Diamonds soon. She believes she can do it.

If they pull out they face a big fine from the Deaflympics organisers. Claire says: "To lose a lot of money could potentially destroy the squad. However I am hopeful we can do it. The public have been so generous so far."

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  • Comment number 1.

    While it may be easier to communicate and interact like with like, does this actually DO anything to break down hearing deaf barriers in sport ? Surely it supports a static status quo not much more,and if equality and access is your bag, counter productive, is this why sport funding is being withheld from the deaf ?

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Is the referee a hearing person
    are they fluent in BSL so they know when a player is guilty of dissent

  • Comment number 4.

    They are hearing or deaf. I have yet to see a deaf referee at an international competition though but we have used deaf referees for friendly matches in the UK. The referees are FIFA certified. However it's pretty obvious when someone swears in sign language either through the signs they use or lip movements


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