Napanian is a mythical place, lying somewhere over the rainbow. It existed for one week, in the minds, flip chart sheets and PowerPoint presentations of 30 individuals, who sought to shred through the details of its lacklustre National Paralympic Committee (NPC), to ensure a brighter future for Paralympic sport and greater equality in the real world.
While Napanian cannot be found on a world map, and its NPC is not among one of those associated with the International Paralympic Committee, the 12 countries represented by senior employees of their respective NPCs in Tbilisi, Georgia, last week can be and are.
My own role last week was to act as a mentor to some of these NPC employees, to help guide them through the chronicles of Napanian and come out on the other side with a robust strategic plan to turn around the fortunes of the fictitious NPC.
Following this otherworldly experience, they have now returned home with an action plan to develop or implement their NPC’s own strategic plan. As a mentor, in the fortuitous position of an external observer, my job at various points over the next two years will be to support these employees – mainly through coaching and counseling – in achieving their goal.
There are currently 181 NPCs around the world. They are recognised by the IPC as the sole representatives of athletes with an impairment from their respective countries. As such, they are responsible for the entrance, management and team preparation for the Paralympic Games.
But this is to oversimplify their work. And, as I learned during the week, NPCs differ greatly in their size, scope of influence and reach, activities performed, and often rely heavily on the personalities that exist in senior management and the strength of their relationships with key stakeholders.
The majority receive vastly different amounts of funding from their national governments and, in addition, some receive grants from the IPC’s development arm, the Agitos Foundation, as well as sponsorship funds – from Toyota, one of the IPC’s worldwide partners – and from national sponsors.
Unfortunately, it seems that their work is somewhat undervalued. One EU-based NPC functions on just €100K per year, funding the work of one very dedicated and knowledgeable office administrator – whose remit, as you can imagine, goes far, far beyond her job description – a general secretary and president, two athletes, and a national programme to build relationships with schools and raise awareness of disabled athletes. And that’s one of the more fortunate NPC’s; most operate with no paid employees whatsoever.
An NPC’s role in athlete performance and sport development means they have a pivotal role to play in promoting the abilities, as well as the needs, of those with impairments in society. While huge events like the London 2012 Paralympics can have a massive impact on the inclusion of those with disabilities in society and the success of the Paralympic movement as a whole, the day-to-day hard grind that’s involved in prolonging and building on the legacy of such milestones falls firmly on the shoulders of those with whom I was privileged to meet last week, and others like them.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. Light shines in from many parts of the world. One NPC, for example, has received funding for and commenced construction on building a brand new, hi-tech, training centre for its athletes. It is also doing some excellent work highlighting the abilities of disabled athletes, through impressive social media campaigns.
The Paralympic movement has made great strides since London 2012, and the excellent support of the Agitos Foundation through programmes such as that I was involved in last week show that real thought is going into supporting NPCs to deliver their objectives.
I hope that this support can continue and grow, with more help from sponsors such as Toyota, to ensure that the dilapidated state that we found Napanian’s NPC in at the beginning of last week remains firmly a figment of the imagination.