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Flags, whistles in Deaf Ball Games

OLYMPICS By Mose Sammy | September 19th 2021
Kenya's Yahe Badhir (10) is joined in celebration by his teammates after scoring his brace against Mali in their Africa Deaf Ball Games Qualifiers at Nyayo National Stadium, September 15, 2021. Kenya lost 4-2 . [Mose Sammy, Standard]

The biggest question as Nairobi hosts the inaugural Africa Deaflympics Ball Games Qualifiers is, how do people lacking the power of hearing or having impaired hearing follow instructions while playing?

It is simple. Unlike the usual trend, in deaf football the centre referees uses the flag in making their calls. He/she raises the flag at the shrill of every whistle to make his/her call known to the players.

The referee communicates with sign language to send the message home. For starters, all participants must be subjected to audiological testing so as to ascertain an athlete’s level of hearing.

This is to enable them to provide evidence that they have a hearing loss higher than 55dB in their better ear.

In the event the evidence is not satisfactory or doubts are raised on the required levels, the said athlete is banned from participating in their respective discipline.

Some of them wear special hearing aids called cochlear implants with the only stipulation being that, unlike with hearing aids, they are not allowed to be worn during competition periods.

Previously, some athletes have been caught either pretending to be having hearing loss issues while they don’t.

Communication breakdown is one of the biggest challenge as most of them are deaf, dumb or both.

Sign language has its own challenges based on the region. For example a sign language in Francophone countries is different from the one used in Anglophone countries. How do they communicate with the match officials?

According to Isaac Hamisi, one of the tournament’s referees, there is no big challenge in handling such matches. 

“Since all players are deaf, they communicate in sign language. We raise the flag to notify them of a call. The rest is normal. The yellow and red card is visible to all and sundry,” explained Hamisi.

“When the ball carrier is tackled and the referee uses hand signals to make a call, most of the players realizes what has happened. Few referees are deaf or hearing-impaired, so they need to understand the essence of communication on the field of play.”

The Deaflympics Games which are being held in Nairobi have attracted a record 11 countries including hosts Kenya, Mali, Ghana, Zanzibar and Somaliland.


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