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Deaf sports History

Deaf Sports’ Brief History

Sport has always occupied an important place in the life of deaf Russians. As early as 1913 the first sports group was created at the I.K. Arnold Moscow Deaf-Mute Society. It included football, skiing and skating sections. In 1915 the group was given the status of deaf sports club; gymnastics, athletics, water sports and cycling were added to the programme.
After the advent of Soviet power deaf sport began to develop more intensively, as the new regime placed particular emphasis on physical education. In 1920, at Moscow Chief Military School for the Physical Education of Workers, a special class was opened to train deaf physical education instructors. 20 people enrolled on this course. Many graduates of the course became sports instructors and trainers for deaf people. They facilitated the appearance in Moscow, Petrograd, Ivanovo-Voznesensk and other places of the first deaf sports groups. A little later a large group of deaf people were trained at Malakhovo Physical Education College in the Moscow Region.
From the first months of its existence the All-Russian Society of the Deaf (VOG) devoted a great deal of attention to sport. Thus, in 1926, following a decision of the Moscow Soviet and the Central Board of VOG the Central Club for Deaf-Mute physical education was opened. In winter 1932 a group of deaf Muscovites completed the Moscow-Leningrad ski marathon. In the summer of the same year the All-Russian Deaf-Mute Chess Tournament took place, and the first All-Russian Deaf-Mute Spartaciada, won by the Leningrad team. In 1933 deaf-mute athletes took part in a parade on Read Square. By the end of 1940 there were 7500 deaf athletes in the RSFSR.
After an interval occasioned by the Second World War sport began to develop apace. In 1957 the first All-Union competition in athletics and volleyball took place in Ivanovo. In August of the same year the USSR team made a brilliant debut at the World Games of the Deaf. In 1958 the wrestler Gennady Kondratev and the athlete Emmanuil Slutsky became USSR Masters of Sport. In the 1960s the skill of the leading deaf athletes increased almost to the level of that of their hearing colleagues. In 1963 Raisa Serova became the first female deaf Master of Sport in shooting. 32 deaf athletes had been awarded the title of Master of Sport by 1966.
A USSR team first appeared at the 1957 Milan Games, winning 37 medals (13 gold, 11 silver, 7 bronze). At Milan the Soviet Union became a member of the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (CISS-ICSD). From that time onward Soviet (and later Russian) athletes became regular participants and favourites in these most prestigious of tournaments (the only exception being the 1985 games in the USA). They have garnered a huge collection of medals - 860 in all (257 gold, 205 silver, 207 bronze).
Since 1971 Soviet teams have taken part in the World Winter Games of the Deaf, also with unalloyed success. In the year of their debut Soviet skiers won 8 medals (1 gold, 4 silver, 3 bronze), which ensured first place in the team competition for the USSR. In succeeding Games Soviet and Russian athletes too occupied first place in the unofficial team competition, with 105 medals (36 gold, 38 silver, 34 bronze).
There was a parallel improvement in the organisation of deaf sport. In August 1960 the Council for Physical Education and Sport was set up by the Central Board of VOG. In 1964 the first plenum of the All-Russian Sports Federation of the Deaf was held. In the mid-1980s VOG had a robust sporting infrastructure: 24 sports halls, 120 basketball and volleyball courts, 16 football pitches, 19 ice hockey rinks, 3 hockey pitches, 8 athletics complexes, 22 skiing centres, 3 shooting ranges, 8 sports camps and 6 tourist centres.
However, at the beginning of the 1990s a severe economic crisis hit deaf sport. In the new post-Soviet conditions VOG did not have the wherewithal to continue the upward trend. It was then that the legendary wrestler Valery Rukhledev himself shouldered the problem of preserving and developing deaf sport. In 1992 Rukhledev and a group of likeminded people had formed the Russian Deaf Sports Union (RSSG). By dint of colossal efforts members of the new organisation managed to arrest the decline of Russian deaf sport, to preserve part of the sporting infrastructure in the region, and to bolster Russian authority by successfully competing internationally. Nevertheless, support from the State and VOG was essential if the position were not to remain critical.
After the World Games of the Deaf were given the title 'Deaflympics', the Russian Committee of Deaf Sports was formed in 2001. The new organisation managed to improve significantly cooperation with state bodies, not only in the area of financing tournaments but also in the area of participation in various legislative initiatives and of financial support for the best deaf athletes. At present Russian deaf sport has colossal potential, which can be realised in the coming years.

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