International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons reassured the Sport Industry Breakfast Club audience this morning that the organisation’s new joint marketing programme with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will have no impact on the Paralympic Movement’s ethical independence.
Asked about the deal in the context of the IPC’s strong stance on Russian doping, which has contrasted with the IOC’s support for Russian athletes’ participation in the Games, Parsons said: “The IOC has never put any pressure on us to take a different approach. I never received even a single WhatsApp message on this.
“This is not a merger or a takeover; it is a partnership, and we signed it despite the decision that we made [to exclude Russian athletes from the Pyeongchang Games.]
“This is a mutually beneficial arrangement. I have heard it very clearly from the IOC [leaders], that the Paralympic Movement is very important to the Olympics and the IOC in the current [sponsorship] environment.”
Parsons confirmed that he did not consult directly with brand partners over the decision to maintain the Russian Paralympic Committee’s suspension from the IPC ahead of the 2018 Winter Games, saying: “We didn’t exactly consult with [them] but they partnered with us because of our values and so they are taken into account when we make those decisions.”
He continued: “We are frustrated [on Russia] because we are not seeing much progress. It’s starting to affect the Russian Paralympic movement. The [National Paralympic Committee] have progressed, but Russia, as a country, is a different story.”
There were, however, hints of a possible change in approach coming, with Parsons observing: “Athletes are starting to come to us [IPC] and say ‘enough is enough.’ They felt sorry for the neutral athletes in Pyeongchang. It’s an interesting trend.”
Parsons was speaking at the BT Centre in London alongside BP’s global director of brand, Duncan Blake, who oversees the energy giant’s International Paralympic Partnership.
On the question of the Russian suspension, Blake said: “We avoid getting into the political debate. The IPC kept us very much informed. Our role is to support the IPC rather than get drawn into debate.”
Blake was equally relaxed about the impact of the new joint marketing agreement, which will see global rights for the Olympic and Paralympic Games negotiated as a single package from the 2020 cycle.
He said: “It’s a sign of the movement getting stronger. Our status [as an International Paralympic Partner] was already contingent on IOC approval. This will bring other partners in, which is only a good thing.
“Some might worry about the potential for driving up the value of rights, but our focus as a brand has always been about supporting the Paralympic Movement. That is why we are involved.”
Blake has been the key driver behind the shift in BP’s sponsorship strategy towards parasport over recent years, which began with the activation of the firm’s domestic London 2012 rights.
He explained: “At the time of London 2012, it wasn’t common to feature para–athletes in marketing campaigns.
“We saw in London that many TOPs didn’t activate, because they hadn’t anticipated the enthusiasm, which was really their loss. It was already very different in Rio – the hospitality centre was full.”
Asked about the relative value of partnerships within parasport – in the context of growing interest in the area of purpose marketing – Blake said: “It’s clear that people who know we’re supporting the IPC are more favourable to us as a brand - we know that from our data.
“But it’s also about the impact within our organisation and among our own people.”
Blake rejected suggestions that parasport sponsorship might be a ’hard internal sell’, saying he believed it would be now be more difficult to convince BP chiefs to sponsor anything outside of the Paralympic movement.
He said he saw the future of the brand’s partnership in “sustainable growth, especially at a grassroots level in our local markets, […which is] already happening very naturally because we have people in our organisation who are now so passionate about the Paralympic Movement.”
Parsons added that the key benefit of the new IOC / IPC joint marketing programme would be greater activation at local market level.
He said: “This is what we have already seen in the case of [TOP Partner] Toyota, which now has partnerships with 11 National Paralympic Committees. It will make a big difference to our growth in many countries.
“In summary, this agreement brings more money, clarity and activation – and this ability for NPCs to create local relationships.”
He joked that he hoped to see BP activating in further markets in coming years.
Looking ahead, Parsons predicted a highly successful Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020, saying: “The Organising Committee there is very solid and the private sector hugely excited, as we have all seen. And this excitement really stretches across both [Olympic and Paralympic Games.]
“Imagine – they have two banks partnering with the same edition of the Games. It would never happen here, but it works in Japan, which is a very different market.”
Parsons said his only concern for Tokyo was about crowd noise levels in the venues, given the more restrained and respectful character of Japanese sports fans.
“They want to import some Brazilians,” the man from Rio de Janeiro joked.