Games for deaf and severely hearing impaired athletes are the world's fastest growing sports movement.
More than 1000 elite athletes from 25 countries are competing in the world's biggest sports event of the moment, the 2003 Winter Deaflympics in Sundsvall, Sweden, for deaf and severely hearing impaired skiers, snow boarders and ice hockey players. Curling competitions are introduced this year as a demonstration sport.
The Deaflympics is among the fastest growing sports movements with more than 80 member countries. Its summer games, which now attract nearly 3,000 athletes, have been held every four years since 1924 under the auspices of the Comité International des Sports des Sourds (International Committee of Deaf Sports - CISS). The first winter games took place in Austria in 1949. The Deaflympics receives official recognition and patronage from the International Olympic Committee.
The two week Deaflympics schedule for the Sundsvall games is packed with alpine and Nordic ski competitions, half pipe and slalom snowboarding, an ice hockey tournament featuring the six best ice hockey nations in the world, curling competitions, social events, medal ceremonies and opening and closing events.
Only athletes with a hearing loss above 55 dB in the better ear may participate. All the athletes are tested in advance. But the Deaflympics are much more than a sports event, proving that severe hearing loss or deafness need not be an insurmountable barrier to sports performances on a high international level. The games are also a forum for exchanges of experiences and social interaction. Whereas in the past, the vast majority of the athletes were developed in schools and institutions for deaf people, today, more and more of the participants come from mainstream educational institutions and are used to the stiffer competition in the larger field of normal hearing athletes.
The Deaflympics offers them all a common opportunity to compete and represent their countries.
The promotion of sports among hearing impaired people is of great importance. The benefits are many and go beyond the sports field. In general, hearing impaired people who participate and excel in sports tend to do better than other hearing impaired people in the job market and in a social context, as well.
Results from the games, the 15th winter Deaflympics (26th of February-9th of March), are posted daily on the Deaflympics website www.deaflympics.com.
The 20th summer Deaflympics will take place in Melbourne, Australia in 2005.
Information on CISS may be found at www.CISS.org.
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