Patrick Nally: Dodgeball’s New Inside-Man
When the World Dodgeball Federation (WDBF) announced in March that Patrick Nally was joining the organisation as an advisor, the news was met with great excitement. Words like FIFA, Coca-Cola, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) colour his biography. For many, the fact that someone with such credit to his name would be willing to help dodgeball was a sign of something we’ve been waiting for. Dodgeball is being recognised as a serious sport; a sport worth backing; a sport that has the potential to be something truly great, with just a little guidance from the right person.
Could Patrick Nally be that person?
Who is Nally?
Patrick Nally is widely recognised as the “founding father of modern sports communication”, as his Wikipedia page will inform you with no clarification as to what that actually means. After getting his start in sports journalism, Nally came up with a great idea: that sports could be a way of communication – more than just a hobby or an entertainment form. Sport is a way to speak to people, to connect across communities and continents.
In the 1970s, this was a bold concept. What it led to, in practical terms, was Nally brokering a deal between Coca-Cola and the then floundering FIFA. It’s hard to remember now, but in the 70s FIFA was nothing like the global monster it is today – it was only really recognised and respected in Europe and South America.
Coca-Cola, for its part, was struggling under the shadow of its own history. It was strongly associated with the US military, thanks to a deal dating back to the Second World War. This had on the one hand made Coca-Cola the mass enterprise it was, on the other hand connected it irreparably with American imperialism – which was obviously not a great image to maintain if it wanted to keep growing.
Nally was the one who saw the potential for connection between these two: Coca-Cola needed a peaceful but dynamic image rebranding, and sport fit the bill; FIFA needed the finances and the backing of a global conglomerate, especially one that was making breaks in the North American and African markets. In the landmark agreement that followed, Coca-Cola became the primary sponsors of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. It was a win-win situation, and from there, football became even more of a global, united sport.
It was a matter of putting the right people in the right room together, united behind the right sport. And it was a matter of communication.
Since then, Nally has had his hand in dozens of major sports and global events. It’s harder to name a sport that he hasn’t been involved in than one that he has: his CV stretches from the Davis Cup to the International Rowing Federation; from the London Marathon to the World Ski Cup.
Nowadays, his primary passion is behind match poker: the style of poker designed to be played competitively, rather than forms like Texas Hold’Em that are linked to gambling. With Nally as chairman of the International Federation for Match Poker (IFMP), poker has managed to distance itself from this negative image and reinvent itself as a sport. Respectable, intellectual, intense, in the same way that chess or e-sports can be.
A sport that traditionally was not viewed as serious, not competitive, not a “real” sport, completely reinvented – it’s not hard to see why the WDBF is so excited to have Nally on board.
What does this mean for dodgeball?
Currently, the issue facing global development for dodgeball is deceptively simple: how do we get people to care? Most people who follow dodgeball are players, friends of players, family members, etc. As a spectator sport, it has yet to really grow a following, and such a following is vital. More spectators and followers means more money and sponsorships, which means bigger and better venues, competitions, training facilities.
Dodgeball, as a sport, finds itself in a strange position. It arguably has all the elements needed to make it a hit with viewers. It’s a familiar sport, a school sport played across the globe. At its core, it’s simple: throw the ball, dodge the ball; get hit by the ball and you’re out. Explaining the basics of dodgeball is far quicker than doing the same with many other sports, including ones vastly more popular – ask anyone to give you a sentence explanation of cricket and you’ll see what I mean. So why isn’t dodgeball big yet?
It’s a very young sport. Formally organised dodgeball has only existed for around two decades, with solid national governing bodies and global organisations like the WDBF still new and slightly fragile. It’s easy to forget that many of us playing in the UK did not get our start under British Dodgeball, but rather the defunct UK Dodgeball Association (UKDBA), playing three-ball dodgeball – a massive shift that is still in our very recent history.
What dodgeball needs, globally, is stability and connections. A concrete version of dodgeball with a competent and unified masthead that can establish vital links with global sports organisations: because, simply put, if you want to be part of the Olympics, you have to get in with the IOC.
To become an insider, the WDBF needs an insider to guide them. That’s what Nally is: someone who knows the ropes, and crucially, someone who can show them to those who have been helping dodgeball grow over the last two decades.
What is Nally going to do?
In a recent interview with Ball-Out Dodgeball podcast, Nally explained how he came to be connected to dodgeball. While in Australia at a sports conference, Nally got to speaking with Rosie Everett, President of the Australian Dodgeball Federation, who explained the state of the sport to him. “I know how much of a challenge it is to get recognition, to get support,” said Nally, referencing the similarities between dodgeball and match poker. ““I was fascinated with hearing the story, and if I could help with that story then clearly then I’d be glad to do so, because I like a challenge.”
To his eye, there are some key decisions that the WDBF and global dodgeball will have to be taking in the next few years: decisions to unify behind a singular image of dodgeball, a single form of dodgeball, and then push that version as far as it can go. And these decisions – including a standardised international ball type – need to be made logically, ideally with the help of scientific studies, rather than by the loudest voice in the room. “The reason I agreed to do what I am doing is that I am not too involved inside the sport, so I can look at it dispassionately, I can look at it from the outside, and see how the outside is looking in. And then from there perhaps start joining discussions.”
To Nally, there’s no reason dodgeball won’t be able to make it in the big leagues, with the Olympics in sight within the decade. It’s an exciting sport with all the right ingredients. “I see all of the energy, I see all of the benefits, I see all of the enthusiasm, I see the simplicity, I see all these things that many other sports just don’t have.
“So if you can galvanise that unity, make all these elements work in a coordinated plan, I think the sport has an enormous opportunity, and certainly has the ability to be an Olympic sport in the very near future. Why not? […] It’s just that singlemindedness that is necessary and taking advice from people that can assist.”
Whatever happens, the future of dodgeball is certainly shaping up to be an exciting one.