Sunday, August 23, 2009

Deaflympians aim for gold repeat

Source Link - Deaflympians aim for gold repeat

It's been another exciting summer in world sport. Usain Bolt blew the world away on the athletics track, England regained the Ashes in breathtaking fashion and Manchester City and Real Madrid defied the global recession by spending hundreds of millions in the transfer market.

However, if you thought that the summer fun had ended then you'd be wrong.

September sees the 21st Deaflympics competition in Taipei and the Great British men's football team will be going there as reigning champions.

Previously known as the World Games of the Deaf, the Deaflympics has been running for 85 years. The last competition, held in Melbourne in 2005, attracted over 3500 athletes and team officials from 97 different countries.

If you're not familiar with the Deaflympics then don't worry. You are not alone.

Unlike Olympians and Paralympians; athletes representing Great Britain at the Deaflympics receive no government funding and very limited publicity.

This is a fact which angers veteran centre-half Chris Beech, who juggles his career as a footballer with working for Wolverhampton City Council.

I've no idea why we don't get any funding. I don't know what their excuse is. Deafness is a disability

GB deaf midfielder Steve Gardiner

"When you look at what we're asking for (from the government) it's really peanuts compared to the kind of backing that the other athletes are getting. We just want a fraction of that. But the government have denied us that opportunity. It's really baffling why we don't get any support.

"Obviously it does feel that we've been ignored by society. I guess that our competition taking place the year after the Olympics and Paralympics doesn't help.

"When we go to different places for training camps we're surprised that people have never heard of us but when we tell people what we're doing they throw themselves behind us."

Glasgow-born midfielder Steve Gardiner is equally unhappy at the lack of government funding for the team.

"I feel disappointed. We're having to raise the money ourselves. I myself am a footballer and it's really distracting my focus from the game as I have to worry about money.

"I've no idea why we don't get any funding. I don't know what their excuse is. Deafness is a disability. What separates us from people with any other kind of disability?"

Beech is hoping for a repeat of the 2005 triumph.

"It was fantastic, absolutely fantastic. It was my first experience of a major deaf competition. To do it was just amazing. I was just so pleased," he said.

"Obviously I hope we can retain our gold medal and status as Olympic champions. I'm pretty confident we can do that."

For Beech, winning gold would be a just reward for all the hard work which has gone into getting the team there.

"Another gold medal would be really nice. We've worked hard for this and we owe it to the people who have contributed towards us going there."

Both Beech and Gardiner have had to rely on the generosity of friends and family to support their trips to Taipei.

With all the money and publicity that the Paralympics has received over the last few years do they wish that their competition was part of the Paralympics?

The English FA has their own deaf team but they've declined to work with us. Without everyone working together it's difficult to see how things are going to improve in the future

GB deaf defender Chris Beech

"I strongly think they should be kept separate," says Beech. "We are isolated in terms of our disability because of the linguistic differences. We wouldn't be able to mix with the other athletes, we wouldn't know what was going on. At the Deaflympics we can all communicate through international sign language."

Gardiner echoes his team-mate's sentiments: "There is a history there with the Deaflympics. I'd rather we kept our own recognition of what we've done."

When asked what the future holds for deaf football in the UK both point to politics within the governing body.

"There's a lot of politics involved. The people who run the association don't see how the players suffer. I think a lot of people just need to grow up and get on with it," Gardiner said.

Beech said: "The English FA has their own deaf team but they've declined to work with us. Without everyone working together it's difficult to see how things are going to improve in the future. But if we all keep going and support what's going on then I'm sure we can build on what's been done so far."

Great Britain begin the defence of their title on 4 September.