Athletes are competitive, they are always looking for that extra edge. And the line of right versus wrong can get a little blurry - even in the case of sporting events held for impaired communities.

The Deaflympics, held between 26 July and 4 August this summer, had that concern. Do deaf people have a disadvantage in events like running? And if deaf people have a disadvantage, couldn't someone fake deafness to win a medal, the same way a guy could claim to be a girl inside and compete in a women's event? 

What about cochlear implants? Are those cheating?

Doping in sports is not new and the Deaflympics had the standard prohibitions on gene doping, growth hormones and other banned substances. But in addition all of the athletes are required to be certified as having a hearing deficit (deaf would seem to be the wrong term, as it is commonly used - but moderatehearinglosslympics does not really roll off the tongue) so the belief, at least, is that it makes a difference and there were concerns about 'deafness doping'. It may not seem like there is an advantage to have hearing throwing a shot put but it turns out that other things earlier in development may have impacted the ability to throw a shot put. 

Do deaf people play ping pong worse? You would think that in the right person ocularity and therefore hand-eye coordination would instead increase, the same way blind people often hear better. If that is so, maybe deaf people have an unfair advantage. Credit and link: Deaflympics.

The limits for who can participate are those with hearing loss of 55 dB pure tone average, which is moderate hearing loss on the commonly used scale. Audiologists from the University of Southampton were on hand when the International Committee of Sport for the Deaf (ICSD), which hosts the games for 3,000 athletes coming from over 80 countries, held their event last month. "We are aiming to ensure no athlete has an unfair advantage over another because their hearing ability does not meet the participation requirements,” they said in their statement. They are researching how loss of hearing impacts sports performance and clearly believe it does confer a disadvantage.

How so? An article in Biology of Sport says that hearing can impact development of motor abilities. Hearing loss of 41-55 dB pure tone average is considered moderate hearing loss (71-90 is severe and >90 is profound) and since motor development - motion - is among the earliest things we learn, it is a fundamental part of our human existence. If hearing impacts motor development, it seems like it would have an impact when an athlete is young, but the authors say statistically it isn't seen. Instead, they conclude that hyper-adaptation causes young people to develop motor skills in other ways.

But sporting events were designed for kids with normal hearing so what may have been developed in other ways in ordinary society may still have a detriment in elite sports. 

Citation: A. Zwierzchowska, K. Gawlik, M. Grabara, 'Deafness And Motor Abilities Level', Biology of Sport, Vol. 25 No3, pp. 263-274, 2008