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Why athletes are calling for better leaders in the Deaflympics


Those who are familiar with Deaf sports will already know about the current scandals surrounding the Deaflympics, almost resulting in a shutdown of the games. 

For those who aren’t, here’s the quick version. The 17th Winter Deaflympics that were meant to take place in Slovenia in 2011 saw fraud on a huge scale. Many Deaf athletes losing out on personal investments they made to get there, only to discover that none of the promised hotel accommodation had been booked, no referees had been paid to officiate matches, and none of the venues had actually been rented. Most of the money that was paid towards this event ended up in the pockets of one Mr. Jaromir Ruda, a former owner of a waste management company – in 2013, he was sentenced to 14 and a half years in prison.

More recently, the head of the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD)  Valery Rukhledev has been placed under house arrest following fraud charges in Russia. He is alleged to have embezzled. The ICSD has since put out a press release via their official website, stating that “these matters bear no relation to the ICSD” whilst acknowledging the arrest. Thankfully, separating Rukhledev from association with it to a degree.

I’ve since received a message from Tony Stoyles, the head of World Deaf Rugby, in which he called for those of us involved in Deaf sport in any capacity to inform our national sports federations to call for an extraordinary ICSD Congress. As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has suspended funding to the organization and put future Deaflympics in doubt.

What does this mean for us as deaf and hard of hearing people?

So what does this all mean for us? What does it have to do with being a hEARo?

It all boils down to this – in every single one of these cases, the people involved were meant to be leaders in the Deaf community, serving in a way that made a difference. They lost touch with the things that made them leaders,  

We need heroes.

For those of us who want to lead within our community, there are traits and principles we will always need to keep hold of. If you let go of any one of them, and you won’t be looked to as a leader or a hero any longer.

1. Integrity

Integrity is choosing to always do the right thing, even when nobody is watching. There is so much temptation out there, not just in terms of money or material goods. It comes in the form of ego, superiority, perceptions, relationship. If you act for your own personal gain at the cost of doing the right thing, you lack integrity.

I had a teacher in high school who would always tell us the same thing, over and over, every chance he got: “Always do the right thing, not the easy thing.”

Stand for your principles, and bear the costs of doing so. It’s so worth it.

2. Service mentality

This is, quite simply, the single most important thing about leadership. It doesn’t matter which arena you’re leading in, it doesn’t matter whether you have a title or were elected or just thrust into a place where others look to you to lead. The main thing about leadership is that it is a service.

If you lead from a place where you’re looking for recognition or fame or glory, you’ll quickly find that your leadership is not as effective as it could be, or even outright damaging.

If you want to lead or be a hero to anyone, you must put others before yourself. You will need to sacrifice to meet the needs of others, but if you’re passionate about serving, it’ll be an easy choice.

3. Know your limits

There are two things to look at when it comes to knowing your limits. The first leads on from the previous principle and is a very important caveat to it.

If, through service, you cripple yourself and end up being just another statistic, another casualty of burnout or bankruptcy or mental illness because you’ve kept pushing on beyond what you could handle, you are no longer of any use as a hero or leader. Likewise, be careful of what you choose to get involved in. Associating yourself with an organization or people who will tarnish your reputation can render all your goodwill moot.

The second thing I want to look at is the limits of your own knowledge or abilities. If you’re going to lead, you’ll also need to know when to step back and let someone else handle things because they have a better grip on what’s needed in a particular area. If you’ve never performed heart surgery, are you going to push aside a veteran surgeon so that you can play the hero? In the same way, don’t try to handle the funds of an organization when you have a capable auditor among your number. Learn how to manage and be part of a team, a greater whole, working for the common good with a wide range of skills and knowledge.

4. Know your capabilities

On the other side of the coin, don’t undersell yourself! If you can do something, do it. Holding back because you’re uncertain of your own ability or to avoid stepping on someone else’s toes doesn’t serve anyone in the long run. A leader knows how and when to act. Not perfectly so, not all the time, but enough that they get things done when it matters.

Use the talents you’ve been given, the skills you’ve earned and developed, and the networks that you’ve formed to work towards your goals and the common good.

“Use the talents you’ve been given, the skills you’ve earned and developed, and the networks that you’ve formed to work towards your goals and the common good.”

Before I wrap up, I’d like to share a quote that I feel really sums up much of what it takes to be a leader and a hero – it comes from the movie Kingdom of Heaven, and is the moment where Orlando Bloom’s character Balian is given the title of Knight and Baron of Ibelin, and becomes a leader.

“Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright, that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong; that is your oath. [Slaps Balian] And that is so you remember it. Rise a knight, and Baron of Ibelin.”– Godfrey of Ibelin.

In short, face your challenges with courage. Act bravely and with integrity, so that whatever code of faith or morals and ethics, along with other people, judge you worthy. Stand by your principles, regardless of cost. Remember who you are trying to lead and be a hero to, protect them, keep to the laws and ethics that keep us from doing evil, and remember that there’s almost a sacredness in leadership.

I won’t slap you to remind you of it, though!

Read more: Phonak hEARo Kaylin Yost wins gold at 2017 Deaflympics

Be a part of making a change

If you want to be a part of the change in the Deaflympics and finding a better leader, you can use the hashtags #Idontaccept #ICSD #IdontacceptICSD #saveDeaflympics. 

Become leaders in our community. Help raise up others around you, and remember what it takes to be a true leader and hEARo!

Author Details
Mark was discovered to have severe hearing loss – total loss in his left ear, severe in the right – at the age of 3, owing to a Cytomegalovirus infection. He grew up as part of the mainstream community, and only started regularly wearing hearing aids at the age of 15, when his hearing loss dropped to profound levels. Rugby has always been a passion of his, and he’s never stopped playing since getting his first opportunity in high school. His greatest claim to fame is playing for the South African Deaf Rugby team, a position he also uses to advocate for the Deaf community. However, he is afflicted with an interest in anything and everything, which manifests in limitless Star Wars puns, comments on the things making up the fabric of society, requests for your favourite banana bread recipes, a predilection for painting 28mm sci-fi models and the inability to fit into any of the proverbial descriptive “boxes” society likes to place people in. He currently lives in Durban with his wife, Amy.