Thursday, February 17, 2011

Underthinking the Winter Deaflympics

So today I was talking to my friend Jeff Mansfield. Jeff is deaf, and he is also a gold medal winning international athlete, he competes in the Deaflympics Team USA Ice Hockey team.
Jeff is apparently also a male model.

Jeff was the first deaf person I had interacted with, and taught me some basic sign language, I learnt the alphabet in like an evening, and then tried to pick up the odd word as I went along. Most of my conversations with Jeff though involved us spelling words to each other with sign, which I imagine was slightly annoying for Jeff, imagine this....

To be fair I could say the above sentence in actual sign language and not just spelling it. The odd thing that struck me was how NZ sign language (based on two handed alphabet) was different from American Sign language (based on one handed alphabet). I mean both countries the language that is spoken is English, so I am not sure why the sign languages were so different, according to Jeff they were only 33% the same.

I blame this difference on our anti-nuclear ships policy
 The reason Jeff was in NZ was to play ice hockey in the NZIHL, where he played for the Dunedin Thunder.
The teams record wasn't so flash that year but Jeff was a stand out performer, making the scorelines a lot closer than they  could have been.
Jeff's leg on the left, accompanied by future Jersey Shore cast member Richie Russo
But I digress, the main reason I am writing this post is right at this very moment Jeff is meant to be defending his title along with his team-mates at the 2011 Winter Deaflympics in Slovakia, the problem is they have been cancelled. And they literally got cancelled at the last minute some teams were already in Slovakia, not the USA team they were in the Medallist Bar at JFK airport about to fly out when they were told.

Pictured: Not the 2011 Slovakian Winter Deaflympics

This late cancellation has lead to lots of cost to the National sporting bodies, as well as the athletes themselves.  I guess if you are like me you might not even be aware this event existed . Well I did some digging and apparently the Deaflympics are longest running multisport event excluding the Olympics themselves, the Summer version started in 1924 in Paris, and the Winter version in 1949 and this is the first time in history they have been cancelled. So how did it happen, why was this event cancelled?

Well a lot of people are blaming this man - Jaromir Ruda.
 But let's start at the beginning, when the deaflympics were first awarded to the Slovakians in 2005, the Slovakian Government refused to back the bid, because of the lack of infrastructure, so the fact it was awarded to them seemed strange, but you know what they had 6 years, surely they could get something together.

Dunedin did this in 1 year, I am pretty sure I could get close to doing this myself in 6 years.
And for the most part they did, from what I understand Jaromir Ruda raised 1.6 billion dollars in sponsorship for the tournament and planned stadiums, and booked hotel rooms for the visiting teams. In late 2005 he was put in remand standing accused of embezzling a lot of the sponsorship he had raised, but was released two years later, through some dodgy politics from what I am told.

Jaromir Ruda's bed
When he was released he was immediately reinstated as the head of the Slovakian Deaflympics organising committee, this was meet with some opposition, but protesting your belief that the wrong man is in the job by quitting doesn't really solve the problem, just means you are no longer associated. Leaving the man accused of embezzling all your money in charge seems just plain bizarre.
Now claims are coming out that the reason the stadiums weren't built because the money was never paid, hotel reservations were cancelled, and people pulled their sponsorship because of an accused embezzler's invovlement.

And who could blame them, probably safer to give your money to Bernie
 Turns out in the last year or so, Jaromir closed down the office and let a lot of people go, because he decided he could run the tournament better himself, and the Slovakian organising committee brought this?

Your raised eyebrows are warrented Duane "The Rock" Johnson. That sounds like the perfect excuse to embezzle more money. Doing the work by yourself means there is no one to check what you are doing with tournament money.

Dance (and steal money) like nobody is watching
Jaromir Ruda is now facing criminal charges from the ICSD (International Committee of Sports for the Deaf) which is all well and good. But that doesn't help the athletes like Jeff who have trained hard for 4 years, and now have no tournament to go too.
 Apparently the Russian and Ukrainians sporting bodies are putting their heads together to try and organise a tournament before the end of the year, because their athletes get paid by the Government to train and compete, the amount they are paid is based on their performance at the deaflympics. So here is hoping they succeed.

With this man in charge of their country, how could the Russians fail?


  1. NZSL grew from BSL when we were colonised. ASL has its roots in French Sign Language hence the differences. People always ask me why there isnt one international sign language (although there is an international signed language which is kinda like a pidgin language and is similar to the international spoken language, Esperanto) and I always say for the same reasons there is no international spoken language.

  2. That is interesting, why did the American language grow out of French, do you know?

    I don't mean there should be one global sign, more just one sign language for English speakers, bar the odd colloquium

  3. Thank you for writing this post. I'm a family member of one of Jeff's teammates. It's been terribly devastating for all the players involved.

    In the wake of this scandal what I wonder and worry about is the ability of our team to secure funding in the future. Who is going to want to donate financially to an organization who can't seem to run a successful international competition? Financial support is difficult enough to come by and now it'll be even more difficult after this debacle.

    It's important to get this news out. I feel for all the athletes who trained and sacrificed so much for these games, only to be robbed of the opportunity. Hopefully, there will be some justice.

  4. You are very welcome M.
    Jeff was telling me the story and there seemed to be a lot of information out there in Slovakian, so I tried to get as much as I could into English. Like you say more exposure is what this issue needs.

  5. oh, and the history of ASL can be found here:

    Thanks again for writing about this!

  6. Azzy77 - Jeff has a great friend in you! I totally agree - we need to get more publicity about this unfortunate cancellation. I also know Jeff and all of the other players as well. I am part of the "behind the scenes" staff that made sure our players were approved to go to Slovakia through USA Hockey. I have to say that I find this to be truly a shame. Not only for the players, their families and the staff, but for everyone that is involved - even remotely. There were major financial commitments from the sponsors that backed the teams, as well as the families and supporters that were going to attend the games. I agree with M - it will be difficult to ask for sponsorship again - especially given what happened with the games this year. I understand that it was an anomoly, but that still doesn't change the fact that a lot of money was shelled out that most likely will never be recouped in any way, shape or form. Not that it was a money maker for people or companies, but it still would have been nice to have said - I financially supported the reigning Deaflympic Hockey Champions!

  7. I reckon the US sign would have developed from French sign because they (Americans) love anything French. Come on bro, they love them so much they drive on the incorrect side of the road, just like them. What more proof do we actually need?

  8. The reason ASL and BSL aren't more similar is that sign languages aren't 1:1 codes for the spoken language or languages of the countries they share. They are real organic languages in their own right, with their own vocab, grammar, etc., and develop and descend via the historical forces that affect the people who use them. 1066 brought huge changes to English, but 1817 is the big date for ASL.

  9. @ Helen. Thank you, but I have a great friend in Jeff too, he looked after me when I came to Boston. Yeah I didn't even consider the angle that individual nations will now have trouble getting funding, because the funds they have got didn't get used. I hope the sponsors can understand the situation, and aren't put off supporting in the future.

    @T I thought for a while there the Americans disliked everything French? But yeah good point about the side of the road they drive on.

    @kt Yeah I guess that's something that hearing people struggle to understand because they learn signs for words they know in their language and assume its just a direct translational. Whereas no one questions that Spanish for example is a different language despite the fact they learn it the same way.
    P.S. I actually kind of knew, but my Dad used to say never let the truth get in the way of a good story (or joke in this case)

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