Paralympic brand governance: The best of both worlds?


The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is the global governing body of the Paralympic movement since its creation in 1989 and aims to promote para-sports at the worldwide level (Brittain, 2010; Legg and Steadward, 2011). The IPC’s ultimate aspiration is “to make for a more inclusive society for people with an impairment through para-sports” while its vision is “to enable para-athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world” (IPC, 2017a). In addition to leading the Paralympic movement, the IPC’s purpose is to organize and protect the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games that are seen as a strategic asset to fulfill its objectives. These Games are indeed branded as an elite sport competition that aim to foster social change for all people with an impairment (Howe, 2008; IPC, 2017a). More than 4300 para-athletes from 159 countries competed in 22 sports during the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio (Brazil) while the Organizing Committee of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games (Japan) envisions to host 4400 para-athletes, making the Paralympic Games the second largest multi-sports events in the world behind the Olympic Games. Compared to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that does not directly govern any sport, the IPC also acts as the International Federation for ten para-sports for which the IPC supervises World Championships and other competitions (IPC, 2017a).

Like most professional sport organizations (Seguin, Richelieu and O’Reilly, 2008), its brand — building around the core values of courage, determination, inspiration and equality — is a key asset for the IPC. The Paralympic brand has been identified as a strategic priority since 2011 in order to increase its social and commercial values (IPC, 2017a). The IPC Strategic Plan 2015— 2018 positions the improvement of the Paralympic brand in terms of recognition and value as one of its three core goals. The IPC further seeks to “develop and implement a long-term brand vision that ensures greater understanding, consistent usage, exposure, recognition and affinity across the world, in particular within key territories” (IPC, 2015).

However, as recently emphasized by Helm and Jones (2010), the management of a company’s brand becomes more challenging as fast and continuous changes that characterize contemporary societies can quickly damage or weaken brand equity. In this chapter, brand equity is defined as “a set of assets and liabilities linked to a brand, its name and symbols, that adds or subtracts from the value provided by its product or service to a firm/or to that firm’s customers” (Aaker, 1991, p. 12). Helm and Jones (2010) prompted the role of'brand governance’ as a new paradigm in brand management literature that may aid to protect and sustain long-term value of a company’s brand. The concept of brand governance was further elaborated and applied to the Olympic brand by Seguin and Abeza (2019). These authors (2019) suggested a shift from strategic brand management — mainly concern with the building, developing and measuring brand equity — to brand governance, defined as “a system of building a brand that is guided by the vision, mission and values of an organization and that systematically nurture a brand value to become and remain a long-term strategic asset" (p. 368).

Building upon this stream of work, this chapter examines key tensions, challenges and paradoxes that intersperse with the development and governance of the Paralympic brand. To this aim, a brief overview of the historical development of the Paralympic movement is first offered to better understand the background on which the Paralympic brand has developed. Second, a theoretical discussion of the concept of brand governance is developed, in particular around the dimensions of brand co-creation (Ferrand, Chappelet and Seguin, 2012; Lucarelli and Giova-nardi, 2016) and brand governance in terms of institutional dynamics (Fiss, 2008). Third, the governance of the Paralympic brand is examined, highlighting how the brand operates in a complex institutional system composed of multiple stakeholders with diverging demands that can jeopardize the Paralympic brand’s equity. This section also emphasizes how the Paralympic brand is shaped by broader societal discourses and attitudes towards disability and has the potential, thanks to its position at the edge of multiple ‘worlds’, to support but also potentially to undermine change in society for all people with an impairment.

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