Patrick Nally

Having been instrumental in the creation of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) TOP programme, as well as FIFA’s marketing programme, I have a long background in sports marketing and am now leading the sporting development of match poker worldwide.

Poker is one of the most strategic games in the world. In fact, Professor Charlie Nesson of the Harvard Law School insists that all lawyers should embrace poker as it teaches valuable life and legal skills.

Wearing my marketing and poker hat, it seems that the relatively new President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Andrew Parsons is equally embracing poker skills when you consider his approach as its leader.

Having inherited the IPC in a period of enormous growth of the movement, and riding on the back of 18 years of tireless work by the previous President Sir Philip Craven, who crafted the IPC brand into one of the most respected sporting brands in the world, Parsons has quickly fallen into the arms of the IOC and entered into a very different, relationship.

This all-embracing agreement was announced in 2018 when essentially IPC joined forces with the IOC under the "exclusive" TOP sponsorship programme.

Whilst the details of the agreement are not public, it seems the IPC have sold forward their marketing rights to the IOC for a considerable sum. 

Having received the benefit of this agreement, and just like the IOC, we can see a significant and rapid headcount growth in both organisations.

It is surprising, therefore, that having agreed to integrate with the IOC, the IPC has now established a new brand called "World Para Sport," with the idea of distancing itself from its main Agitos brand, the current Paralympic symbol.

As it appears that the IPC brand has effectively been sold off to the IOC, at least until 2032, to be integrated with the TOP programme and its exclusive approach, is World Para Sport potentially a loophole - an ambush marketing approach - to enable the IPC to exploit the Paralympic movement still commercially?

IPC President Andrew Parsons has tied his organisation's marketing future to the IOC's TOP programme but appears to be trying to find a loophole to exploit the potential of the Paralympic Movement ©IPC
IPC President Andrew Parsons has tied his organisation's marketing future to the IOC's TOP programme but appears to be trying to find a loophole to exploit the potential of the Paralympic Movement ©IPC

As another intriguing and questionable development, Parsons is also restructuring the IPC in an attempt to remove the cost burden of the Paralympic sports, and in one case passing them on to the United Kingdom taxpayer.

It seems the UK Government is agreeing to take over the governance of IPC Athletics and IPC Swimming globally, to have them based in Manchester.

When comparing this to the fact that the International Ski Federation has just taken over their winter Paralympic sports, it would seem logical that sports remain managed by the relevant global sports authorities rather than the UK taxpayer.

The real question is "who owns the rights to these international IPC sports properties now" and how does this all fit with the IOC TOP exclusive programme?

This will obviously need to be thrashed out, as currently the Parsons approach seems to be creating a spider's web of confusion as it relates to IPC branding.

I have no doubt that the pay masters in Lausanne, who are paranoid of protecting the TOP programme exclusivity, will be watching closely, especially when the TOP programme is itself under enormous pressure with rumours that three current sponsors have given notice to the IOC that they will not continue.

It is also interesting to further consider the International Paralympic Federations in this whole mix, as I understand it, unlike Olympic International Federation, the Paralympic governing bodies receive no distribution from the IPC, even now with the IPC receiving what must be a considerable sum from the IOC for all of their rights.

Many of these Paralympic International Federations survive on what is understood to be under half of what the IPC President now pays himself as a salary.

The IPC has enthusiastically embraced the
The IPC has enthusiastically embraced the "WeThe15" campaign ©Getty Images

Parsons, supported by his lieutenant Craig Spence, a communications spin doctor, are attempting to achieve further brand extension around a concept called "WeThe15", a global human rights movement which aims to make persons with disabilities, who make up 15 per cent of the world's population, a total of 1.2 billion people, visible seeking to align the Paralympic Movement with a very worthwhile cause.

Surely the IPC’s success has been built on focusing on sport and their athletes, integrating with the existing sports structures, why move into a space that is very cluttered? Stick with the formula that has helped create the brand.

IPC has engaged specialists like Spence, their chief brand and communication officer, they have in turn paid specialist agencies. But has the "WeThe15" campaign really advanced the cause of Paralympic Sport and is a brand extension of this nature what Paralympic sport needs now?

Does another brand approach work in the exclusivity mix of the IOC TOP programme and, most importantly, do all the stakeholders in the IPC, especially the athletes and International Federations really want it?

The IPC fronted by Parsons and Spence are hosting a marketing summit next week where they hope to convince the audience that such a brand extension is warranted, and no doubt that, it can work in the mix with the IOC and their TOP programme.

Equally on behalf of all UK taxpayers, I would want comfort that shelling out to host global governing bodies of Paralympic sport is a worthwhile investment and can their requirements be presented in a transparent manner so we can accept why they are not run by the individual International sports themselves, such as World Athletics and World Aquatics?.

I assume that Mr Parsons and Mr Spence will have their best Poker faces on for next week.