Football for the Deaf

ds2Summer is now upon us in and it is time to turn our interests to summer sports.  A summer sport that is becoming more and more popular in the US –though still far less so than almost anywhere else–is what Americans call”Soccer” and the rest of the world knows as football.  For Americans, of course, “Football” means the Gridiron version (American Football). 

This week, Hearing International looks at Football and deafness and discusses a major triumph for the hearing impaired.  Soccer is the most important sport worldwide as there are teams from the smallest countries to the largest countries, professional teams and amateur teams, and now there are teams for the deaf as well.  The FIFA World Cup is arguably the most watched sporting event in the world.  Most of other sports seem to be regional with a large following in their home countries or within cultures, such as Cricket, Baseball, American Football, and Hockey, but Soccer (Football) has a world-wide following!

Soccer History

Early evidence suggests that soccer began in China during the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC.  At that time, during the Han dynasty, people dribbled a leather ball and kicked it into a small net. Records also indicate that Romans and Greeks used to play ball for fun and frolic. Some evidence points to Kyoto, Japan where kicking of a ball was popular sport.  However, the roots of modern soccer lie in England, where it is reported that the first soccer “ball” was the head of a Danish brigand (outlaw). During medieval times, soccer  players reportedly engaged in many now-banned practices such as kicking, punching, biting and gouging one another. ds5The main aim was to carry the ball to a target spot.

People grew so fond of the game that they would throng the field all day long. Sometimes the competition grew fierce and so wild that there were frequent incidents of violence during the game.  It is also said that soldiers admired the game so much that they skippedds4 archery practice to watch it.  Due to these incidents of violence and the military preoccupations with soccer, King Edward III banned soccer in 1365 and in 1424 King James I of Scotland (left) proclaimed in Parliament— “Na man play at the Fute-ball” (Scottish for: No man shall play football).

In 1815, a major development took place that made soccer popular in English universities, colleges and schools. A set of rules was developed, known as the Cambridge Rules. Football was divided into two types: some colleges and schools opted for Rugby rules that allowed tripping, shin kicking and also carrying the ball, activities that were exclusively prohibited by the Cambridge rules.

Modern soccer was established in October 1863 when eleven representatives from London clubs and schools met at the Freemason’s Tavern (right) to set up common fundamental rules to control the matches among themselves. The outcome of this meeting was the formation of the Football Association. In December 1863, the Rugby Football and Association football finally split, as the supporters of the Rugby School rules walked out.  Firmly establishing the foundation of soccer in 1869, the Football Association strictly banned any kind of handling of the ball.

Soccer’s popularity spread rapidly during the 1800s as British sailors, traders and soldiers introduced the sport to different parts of the globe.  In Europe, Italians, Austrians and Germans embraced the game, while Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil adopted theds3 sport in South America. FIFA (Federation International de Football Association) was established in 1904 and by the early 1930s, different leagues were operating in various countries. FIFA is credited with organizing the first World Cup in Uruguay, which the host country (right) won by defeating Argentina (left).

The Deaf and Soccer

ds7Soccer has been played by deaf people since it founding.  The first ds9recorded organized game between deaf teams was played in 1871 in the UK and the first deaf soccer team dates back to 1871 — the Glasgow DFC.  An important aspect of soccer or any sport is that it supplies intrinsic satisfaction to the participant and a social link to society. With its international scope, soccer offers the deaf community the opportunity to travel and stay in contact with each other. It is also a means of making friends and sharing experiences.

Some soccer clubs are strictly for the deaf community, and the only criterion to join is that you must be deaf.   This nurtures a sense of belonging for the ds6deaf community and facilitates their participation. The deaf soccer teams prefer to use a flag, which is visual, rather than a whistle for obvious reasons when playing among themselves.  To be considered as a “Deaf Player for league purposes the International criterion is that players must have a hearing loss of at least 55 dBHTL in their better ear.   All players competing in deaf matches must remove hearing aids before playing, which creates another obstacle to overcome.ds8 Deaf soccer teams, however,  do not play only against other deaf soccer teams. They often play Hearing teams as well. Playing Hearing teams can have disadvantages because of players’ inability to hear the coaches or the referees. Also, hearing is linked to maintaining balance and is an important aspect of soccer because it is such a dynamically active sport.

For deaf players on hearing teams, communication with teammates is an obstacle. Communication is a vital part of socializing and without it, the feeling of being excluded is indeed strong. A way to overcome this barrier is to teach teammates simple signs to ease communicating on the field. Learning the sign language alphabet is a good way to start. As a coach making a deaf player feel a sense of belods10nging is challenging, but learning basic sign language could be beneficial to the coach and the player. An interpreter is always a good idea.

Based in Geneva, Switzerland, DIFA is the sole, independent body directly representing deaf football worldwide. It offers know-how and experience in safeguarding and promoting the interests of deaf football.  The deaf have their own competitions sanctioned by the Deaf International Football Association (DIFA) and there are Deaf Champions Leagues all over the world that compete against each other as in last year’s competition in Ankara, Turkey.  The big event in 2013 will be the Deaflympics.  The Deaflympics will offer competitive events in most sports, but football will be a major component.  Watch for them July 26-August 3 in Sofia, Bulgaria.




About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor is a board certified audiologist with 45 years of clinical practice in audiology. He is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager, and author. He has 45 years experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in various university audiology programs.


  1. referees with the knowledge of sign language(special education), should be invited to officiate in all football tournaments organised by FIFA/Confederations to ease communication.

  2. i find it so interesting whenever i read about the game of soccer and the deaf football players. kindly give me an update of the activities of DIFA.
    i am a premier leaque referee in Nigeria since 2005 to fate with special education qualification.

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