Paralympic brand and the disability community

The Paralympic brand blends ideas of sporting excellence and social awareness and change for people with an impairment. As such, a targeted outcome in terms of Paralympic Games legacy is to challenge attitudes and perceptions of disability in society (IPC, 2015). Even if Paralympic legacy as a field of research is rapidly growing (Misener et al., 2013), there remains a paucity of research investigating the perception of the Paralympic movement from the point of view of the disability activists and disability community (Braye, 2017; Braye, Dixon and Gibbons, 2013; Braye, Gibbons and Dixon, 2013).

Hosting the Games can be a catalyst for cities’ urban regeneration, for passing new laws promoting equality, for developing new initiatives towards sport participation and accessibility. Nevertheless Darcy (2003), in the study of the legacy of the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games, noted a contradiction between the fact that elite disability sport is privileged over the average material position of the disability community. More recently, Weed and Dowse (2009) also argued that a focus on elite sport can prevent the social legacy of the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

In this vein Braye, Dixon and Gibbons (2013) analyzed the views of UK disabled activists regarding the Paralympic Games. Their findings reflected a negative perception of the Games from the activists’ point of view as “the Games present an overly optimistic and unrealistic view of living as a disabled person’’ (p. 5). Braye (2017) also argued that the overly positive narrative the IPC is developing around the Paralympic Games depicts the Games “as a modern day freak show" (p. 225). He further argues that the brand of Disabled People Movement, an international disability advocacy group, is “completely overshadowed by the brand that is the Paralympic Games under the auspice of the IPC” (p. 226). Braye (2017) concluded that there is the potential for the IPC brand ‘killing’ the DPM brand and therefore undermining the voice of disability activists in society.

With great power comes great responsibility. How the Paralympic brand is perceived by the larger disability community that the IPC intends to serve is determinant on the IPC’s ability to break discriminatory barriers for all people with an impairment.

Conclusion

Organizations operate and evolve in a complex and dynamic environment that can alter or damage their brands’ equity. In response, scholars emphasized the importance of brand governance as a new approach to protect and sustain brands’ long-term equity and value. The governance structure of a brand implies the development of long-term policies, capabilities and guiding principles that are based on the values, mission and vision of the company in order to develop and nurture a brand’s equity.

A brand governance approach acknowledges the co-creation of brand by internal and external stakeholders, engaged in power-political relationships and contests. As this chapter highlights, one should also consider the embeddedness of the organization in a larger institutional environment composed of cultural-cognitive, normative and regulative elements (Scott, 2014) that can both shaped, or be altered and transformed by, the core meanings of a brand’s company.

The Paralympic brand is at the centre of a complex nexus of inter-related dimensions that influence its short- and long-term governance. Thanks to its growing professionalization and commercialization, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is now able to showcase para-athletes’ abilities and sporting excellence at the worldwide level. Key partnerships, notably with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have strengthened IPC’s position in the international sport movement. Moreover the Paralympic brand is perceived as strong and well protected while Paralympic sponsorship positively increases sponsors’images. Arguably, the IPC has become the main sounding box for disability sports in society and has the power to challenge social norms, beliefs and stereotypes associated with disability.

However, its relationship with the IOC also presents risks, notably in terms of control of the Paralympic brand and the Olympification of its meaning. Also, by overtly focusing on elite sport, the IPC can potentially alienate a crucial component of its viewership, namely the disability community that increasingly feels disconnected from the Paralympic Games. Moreover, communication about the Paralympic movement and Paralympians offers unique challenges that have the potential to either tackle or reinforce stereotypes associated with disability, such as supercrip.

There are additional brand governance issues that the IPC will have to address in the near future. As sponsors’ interest in para-sports is growing, more associations with the Paralympic brand will be developed over time that can undermine IPC’s ability to govern it effectively. Moreover para-athletes are increasingly used as activation points by sponsors which, as a consequence, can multiply images, beliefs and narratives associated with Paralympic athletes and therefore undermine the Paralympic brand’s consistency. Finally, as sponsors may be willing to invest more and more in the Paralympic brand, they may also want to have a say in the governance of the IPC and its brand. More pressures will therefore be created on the IPC and its board of directors. How the IPC will be able to protect itself and its brand from external stakeholders will be critical for the long-term Paralympic brand’s equity.

The Paralympic brand is arguably at the edge of two worlds, aiming to raise social awareness and change for all people with an impairment using elite and high-performance sport as main vehicle. If well governed, the Paralympic brand is in the unique position to take advantage of the best of both worlds and fulfill its strategic objectives in the long term.

 
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