‘The British Deaf community is an attachment community, based on shared feelings of identity, culture and sentiments – shared feelings and perspective through involvement in sports.’ Atherton (1999)
Sport has been an important part of deaf people’s lives. Since the late 19th century, many have played sports in deaf schools/institutions, where they played against other deaf friends, people within the deaf community or other deaf and hearing schools. Later, deaf clubs formed and set up their own teams, playing against other deaf clubs in sports such as football or bowling, and indoor games like darts or chess. That led to the development of different deaf sports organisations such as the Scottish Deaf Football Association which was set up in 1889 and is still running today.
For most deaf people, playing sports wasn’t just for enjoyment – they would also meet up with other deaf people to chat and catch up on news or make new friends, or meet their future spouses. Deaf people did not only play in deaf sports competitions, they also played in hearing leagues and competitions. There are not many records or references made about deaf sports history and there is still more research to be done.
The first deaf international football match was between Scotland and England at Ibrox Park, Glasgow, in 1871. They drew 3-3 and Glasgow Deaf Athletic Football club was set up the same year. In 1928 George Scott, a deaf Scottish footballer, played for the Great Britain team which ended up in the final at the International Silent Games in Amsterdam, now referred to as Deaflympics. Since then several deaf Scottish individuals have played different sports at Deaflympics and also the Deaf Winter Games. The most recent ones were Danielle Joyce and Jack McComish, swimmers who won gold and bronze medals in 2017 at Samsun, Turkey.
Some deaf people challenge themselves at extreme sports, such as Gerry Hughes, who sailed around the British Isles in a yacht with another deaf skipper from England in 1981 and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean single-handed in the Transatlantic Race in 2005. He was the world’s first deaf yachtsman to sail single-handed around the world, passing five great capes in 2012/13. The Deaf Mountaineering club is another example, which started in 1959.
The Scottish Deaf Golf Association was established in 1986 and the Scottish Deaf Bowling Association was set up in 1984 and is still running – they have set up their own Scottish team, playing against international teams around the world. The 8th World Deaf Golf Championship was at St Andrews in 2010.
Some important questions to ask:
Is there a future for deaf sports for deaf young people?
How can we keep deaf sports resilient without deaf clubs?
It seems that deaf sport has been in decline in the last 10-15 years, due to the closure of deaf clubs; Scotland used to have 14 deaf football teams in the 20th century, and now there are only 4 teams left playing Futsal.