At this very moment deaf and hearing-impaired athletes are cycling across Europe. They carrying a flame from Paris, France to Sofia, Bulgaria for the opening ceremonies of the 22nd Summer Deaflympics.
Organized by the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD), the Deaflympics are the premier international competition for elite deaf and hearing-impaired athletes. Like the Olympics, winter and summer games are held every four years at locations around the world. Over the past 89 years, these games have been held in 35 cities and 21 countries.
This year they will be held in Sofia, Bulgaria. 14,707 Deaflympians from over 100 countries will compete. Newcomers to the games include Jordan, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Bosnia. The Deaflympics will run from July 26th to August 4th.
To qualify for the games athletes must have hearing loss of at least 55 db in their better ear. Hearing aids, cochlear implants and other such devices are not allowed, so as to place athletes on the same level.
The Deaflympics are like the Olympics in many ways. A variety of events are offered, including: track and field, karate, swimming, tennis, volleyball and soccer. However, certain changes have been made to accommodate it’s athletes’ hearing loss. Unlike in traditional sporting events, athletes cannot be guided by sound. In soccer, for example, the referee waves a flag instead of blowing a whistle. In track and field, runners are guided by lights, instead of a starting pistol. Spectators traditionally wave both hands rather than clapping or cheering.
The goal of the Deaflympics is to promote deaf culture and the rights of deaf and hearing-impaired individuals. These games shows the self-sufficiency and strength not only of its competitors but of the deaf community as a whole. This mission can be seen in their motto: Per Ludos Aequalitas (Equality through Sport). Even the running of the flame has practical aims. The flame will be carried by cyclists in miner’s lamps from Paris, France (home of the first Deaflympics in 1924) to the opening ceremonies in Sofia, Bulgaria. Not only is this intended to raise awareness of deaf sports, it is meant to encourage the establishment of dedicated bike lanes throughout the world. The lack of dedicated bike lanes is an impediment to deaf cyclists in many places, making it dangerous for them to participate in the sport.
The Deaflympics have been advocating for the deaf and hearing impaired community since its establishment in 1924. Originally called The Silent Games, this was the first ever international sporting event for any group of people with disabilities. At the time the deaf and hearing impaired were considered intellectually inferior and linguistically deficient. The Deaflympics continue to fight such stigmas by encouraging deaf achievement in sports and the development of deaf culture.