NAIROBI: The Kenyan government went all out when it hosted the inaugural Africa Deaf Athletics Championship at the Kasirani Stadium last week.
The competition attracted 12 countries, with Botswana amongst the competitors. Kenya dominated winning 20 gold medals, 16 silver and 18 bronze. Nigeria finished second with two gold medals, five silver medals and one bronze.
Ethiopia were third after scooping two gold, three silver and two bronze medals. Botswana finished ninth after winning a bronze in the mixed relay team. The first Africa Deaf Athletics Championship chief executive officer, Mirriam Opondo said she was excited about the support they received from their government.
She said the Confederation of African Deaf Sports (CADS) was set up in 1997 and since its formation they have never had any championship for the deaf.
“For almost three decades now, we have never had any championship, but today I am happy that this has happened. It is a historic moment for this country and the continent. We have had several challenges during preparations of the competition,” she said.
“There was a bidding process and no country had interest in hosting and that responsibility comes with a budget and most countries feared hosting because of budgetary constraints.”
Opondo said most countries in Africa are not keen to support deaf sports. She said the International Olympic Committee recognises all sports disciplines as equal.
She said there are the hearing Olympics, Paralympics, Deaflympics and Special Olympics. However, Opondo said African governments are not keen on supporting Deaflympics but do the Paralympics, thinking that they are one thing.
“Right now the ministries have been asking about the Deaf Championships and Olympics, you see most of them think they are in Paralympics, hence they do not give us the support. Right now if you look at the number of (participating) countries, the number is minimal. We were expecting 24 countries to participate and only 12 managed to come,” Opondo said.
She said those 12 also had fewer participants, with some countries sending one athlete due to budgetary constraints. She said governments are reluctant to fund sports for the deaf. She argued that the deaf sport should be supported just as equally as the hearing sport.
“If Kenyan athletes win, the country wins as well, if a Botswana athlete wins, it means Botswana has also won. Your flag would be raised and your national anthem played in the stadium. Why not support that athlete?” she asked rhetorically.
Opondo said if given support, the deaf sportspeople could prosper. She said various countries have scooped medals, which is an indication that the deaf and hearing people are equal.
She urged governments to give everyone, regardless of their disability, equal opportunities. “This is not about sympathy and do not give us sympathy. We want equal opportunities in sport. We are thinking about mainstreaming as well. As a country we can only say yes, if an opportunity comes our way we would like to host bigger events like World Championships and Deaflympics,” she said.