“The President and the Board are determined to make IBSA a more athlete-centred organisation”
Date: September 7, 2023
Tony Sainsbury is the newly appointed IBSA’s interim Executive Director.
His approved mission is to support several key strategic objectives including a total review of the IBSA Constitution, structures, operations, sports, etc. to create a more responsive organization that meets the aspirations of its Members and their athletes.
Tony Sainsbury’s professional career started 1972 first as a physical education teacher and then with several local government appointments in the north of England which included the strategic management of citys’ sports facilities, responsibility for the development of all sports development programmes and new sports building initiatives. For five years (1993-1998) he was also Director of Sport at the University of Manchester managing all its sports facilities and programmes.
He was also a member of the Manchester Bid Committee for 1996 and 2000 as a Paralympic specialist. In 2003 he joined the London 2012 Bid team and went on to be head of the Olympic & Paralympic Villages until hand back to the developers in 2013.
For most of his working life in the UK he also combined his time as a volunteer with Manchester Disabled Athletes and then subsequently as Chef de Mission at the British Paralympic Association of which he was a founding director, responsible for the planning, operations, and management of the British Paralympic Team at five summer Paralympic Games: Arnhem 1980, Stoke Mandeville 1984, Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, and Atlanta 1996.
On taking early retirement from the University in 1998 he was recruited to work on the Sydney Games project as a Paralympic and Village expert. He has been engaged and worked in some form at every Paralympic Games since Sydney 2000 and even as Chef de Mission for the IPC Independent Paralympic Refugee Team at Rio 2016. Tony has also worked on three Commonwealth Games Manchester 2002, Glasgow 2014, and Birmingham 2022.
Tony was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth 1995 and the Paralympic Order by Sir Philip Craven, IPC President 2009.
Check out the early thoughts Tony will bring to his new role as IBSA’s Executive Director.
What was the first idea that came to mind when the invitation to be the new Executive Director came to you?
First thought: ‘Was there any escape?’ Second thought: ‘Okay, it’s an interim role.” Third thought: ‘I feel honored that the IBSA President should ask me to help kickstart a number of essential reforms.’
Which are the main challenges that you will have in your mission?
Time and energy for someone in their mid-70s! But the enthusiasm and commitment of the new Executive Board for change will spur me on, together with the blind and VI athlete ghosts from when I was Chef de Mission of the British Paralympic team.
For you, what are the main strengths of IBSA that can be underlined?
The President and Board are determined to make IBSA a more athlete-centered organization, as can be seen by one of their first acts, the appointment of an athlete elected to the Board by their peers recently at the World Games. IBSA’s past is glorious in terms of sport and performances, and we need to place more emphasis on those achievements. The world of the blind and VI looks to IBSA as the source of the pathway to sport generally and some elite sport. And while our own sports are a great shop window, we need to see a responsibility to the wider blind and VI community and their needs and ambitions in sport. This is the President’s vision, which I share and endorse.
What can people expect from the new Executive Director, regarding your mission?
Let me be clear: my brief is not to be the Executive Director, as undertaken by my predecessor. The President recruited me to look at kick-starting a series of strategic initiatives in each of the Board Members’ roles and responsibilities previously reported. That’s my agenda, but experience tells me to expect anything!
Are there any changes on the horizon for any IBSA sports (not only the Paralympic ones) concerning the competition calendar?
My knowledge of the calendar is limited at this early stage. What I can say is that IBSA is seen externally as ‘same old, same old’ – nothing changes year on year! And even my involvement in recent years suggests that not even the Members can agree what IBSA is and what it should be in the future. There are too many versions of what IBSA is out there. If there is no consensus internally then that spells confusion and frustration for those we wish to serve. Hence the need for a total review.
Name three priorities for your work in the short term, considering that Paris 2024 has less than one year to go.
I have been given three key specific priorities by the president, along with a few others. Paris 2024 will happen and has no impact on defining what IBSA is, how it conducts its business, or its sustainability.
- Prepare the basis for a full review of IBSA, bottom-up and top-down, to be conducted by an external independent agency involving the whole membership to ensure that everyone associated with IBSA can agree on what it is now and what it should be in the future.
- To explore an accessible (geographical) location for an IBSA Home (HQ) with professional staff and a CEO—a place for meetings, seminars, and workshops of the IBSA family and its partners, and perhaps a Study Centre and Archive of all things IBSA.
- To review the World Games hosting process. My experience in several host applications in the past and my years with London 2012 encourages me to find a more discursive process than the competitive and inflated promises seen in the past by other major multi-sport events.