BT Sport and EE’s new Sign Up initiative sees two BSL commentators selected to present live football punditry across a range of games this year

Damaris Cooke and Rolf Choutan have been selected to provide British Sign Language (BSL) presentation across a range of BT Sport’s live football programming in 2023, thanks to BT Sport and EE’s New Signing initiative.

The casting took place in December 2022 and Damaris and Rolf were among ten high calibre finalists who were selected from a vast pool of submissions, for the final stage. They candidates were put through their paces in front of a panel of experts, including Kevin Evans, executive producer BT Sport, Christian Cotter, producer, BT Sport, Lesley McGilp, head of signing, access services, Red Bee Media, and Sean Noone, head of competitions, England Deaf Football.

The new Sign Up initiative is part of a continuing mission to make football more accessible for all. Ensuring that the d/Deaf community can engage in football and enjoy the beautiful game more easily will improve their experience as spectators and players, help raise the profile of disability sport and hopefully support the growth of disability football on and off the pitch. 

Both Damaris and Rolf have a passion for football and neither are strangers to the pitch. Damaris has captained both GB Women’s Football and England Women’s Football teams, and Rolf has previously played Deaf Football and currently plays for a Deaf Futsal team, he is also a Crystal Palace season ticket holder. Both have relished the opportunity to use their skills to open up the world of sport to their community. You can watch a documentary series on their journey from 4 February on BT Sport 1 and EE platforms.  

We caught up with them to find out what this appointment means to them.


BT Sport Sign Up Initiative

What led you to apply for this position?  
I have always been sports-mad, so it was a no-brainer when this opportunity came up! I also received over 30 texts from friends and family telling me to apply. Growing up with two older brothers, there was always an element of competitiveness, so I needed to know what I was talking about and back it up with facts! As an ex-captain at an international level, I understand the ins and outs of the game. I always enjoy the aspect of banter with friends, learning from them, and finding out about stats or key information. So, for me, a job to talk about football sounded dreamy! It doesn’t feel like a job when you love football and sport. 

Was it nerve-wracking during the casting auditions?  
Absolutely yes! I was the first interviewee, but I was kept waiting for a long while before I was seen, which meant I had all kinds of thoughts going through my head. Also, I thought the interview would take place in a small meeting room, but it was held in a huge warehouse room, and it felt like it took forever to walk up to the panel! As I was in heels, I kept saying to myself, ‘don’t fall over’. I was very nervous, but I felt more relaxed when I saw a familiar face on the panel.  

I was asked to provide punditry for two football clips as part of the audition. Although I wasn’t sure what was expected of me, I felt confident with my commentary. I just thought I would do what I usually do if I wanted to explain to my wife or friends the significance of key moments in the game, putting it into an easily accessible format they can understand, and adding background information and why it was so significant along the way. 

What do you hope to bring to the role?  
The core thing here is accessibility. I hope to explain/translate in a way that engages d/Deaf BSL users, supporters or not, to connect with the beautiful game. Most televised football matches (except for internationals or FA Cup games on national TV) aren’t subtitled, so d/Deaf people are largely excluded from accessing the game. Added to that, English is the second language for most of the BSL community so even when matches are subtitled, d/Deaf BSL users are still missing out on information i.e. red cards, offside and the laws of the game. When I watch subtitles for football games or even any major sporting game, I like to learn more about the participants involved, and if I can help with making this accessible for d/Deaf people, then that’s my job done. I also understand what it takes to be a football player and how it is to play under different managers, so I can offer a different personal perspective on the role too.  I hope to come across as if I’m the audience’s friend and for it to feel like this is just a typical Saturday or Sunday afternoon together watching the match. 

How does it feel to be part of a ground-breaking initiative that is improving accessibility for the d/Deaf community?  
I’m incredibly honoured to be a part of this pioneering initiative and the only way from here is up! I’m so excited to see what the future holds, not just for me but for the wider d/Deaf community; this initiative will mean greater exposure of the d/Deaf community and the need to ensure they are included and not just as a box-ticking exercise. Access is needed 24/7, 365 days a year, and I can only thank BT Sport for taking these ground-breaking steps. I hope other networks sit up and take notice! 

How important do you believe this representation will be for d/Deaf sports fans?  
This is hugely important for d/Deaf sports fans. As a hidden disability and a linguistic/communication barrier, the access needs of d/Deaf people are often overlooked within the disability field. The news of this initiative has already done the rounds in the d/Deaf community. d/Deaf sports fans feel valued and are touched that their needs are finally being catered for. I hope this leads to greater things; numerous d/Deaf people across the UK are experts in their own sporting field, and their knowledge is left untapped. This opportunity has shown that anyone can apply and succeed, and I feel a sense of responsibility to leave the door open behind me.  


BT Sport Initiative

What led you to apply for this position? 
Love of the game, the possibility of learning from the best in the business, being a part of increasing awareness and accessibility for BSL users in sport.

Was it nerve-wracking during the casting auditions? 
Right up until the point where I walked into the auditorium I was excited rather than nervous. Immediately upon entering my left leg refused to stop shaking and continued to do so for the duration of the casting, but thankfully didn’t seem to impact my performance too much.

What do you hope to bring to the role? 
Expressing football analysis and insight in the unique way that only native BSL users truly can. 

How does it feel to be part of a ground-breaking initiative that is improving accessibility for the d/Deaf community? 
It is both a privilege and a responsibility. To demonstrate why inclusiveness matters and to ensure that d/Deaf audiences are considered equally when it comes to programming and broadcasting.

How important do you believe this representation will be for d/Deaf sports fans? 
I think it is a big step on a much bigger journey, in the short term to improve access and broaden the reach for d/Deaf audiences, in the medium term to incentivise other broadcasters to match and exceed the level of provision for d/Deaf audiences, and in the long term to inspire other members of the d/Deaf community that they too can work in football in a similar capacity.

Find out more at:

Get your copy of PosAbility Magazine

Read more articles here