Craven reflects on legacy after 16 years as International Paralympic Committee President
If you ask Sir Philip Craven about his legacy after 16 years at the helm of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), he will spend a moment reflecting on the past before turning his attention to the future of the Paralympic movement.
The 67-year-old leaves office on Friday to be succeeded by Brazilian Andrew Parsons, but shows no signs that his long stretch as President has dampened his passion for sport – if anything he is fierier than ever and ready to continue tackling the major issues.
That’s not to say he will be a lingering shadow in the halls of the IPC headquarters in Germany but, rather, that he is not someone who is able to say ‘the job is done’.
“I would hope my legacy is: teamwork, the spirit of sport and the energisation of the movement,” said Craven.
“Everyone has to work together; whether that’s in your region, in your country, in your sport or organising committee people need to feel the spirit of sport.
“Forget about these people making massive money out of sport, they don’t really count. It’s millions or even billions of people who appreciate what sport can be and energising them to defend sport.
“It’s about people getting on with each other, people being confident in their ability and that’s what you can get from part of your life being given to sport and having fun.”
Craven was injured in an accident at the age of 16 which left him without the use of his legs but the immediate realisation that sport was still an option ignited something in him.
“I think I can be quite honest and say I knew nothing about disability before my accident,” Craven added.
“But when you break your back and fall ten metres and the next morning you start to realise that you aren’t going to walk again then it’s a pretty quick learning process.
“But immediately I had this vehicle of sport. On the first day I saw wheelchair basketball out the window when I was lying on my back and immediately something hit me and I knew I could carry on doing sport.
Craven played wheelchair basketball at the highest level, including appearances at five Paralympic Games, before making the transition into sports administration – a field he’d inadvertently been building experience in for a while.
“I started to realise everything that was wrong with the sport of wheelchair basketball. The player classification system was rubbish. It had been devised by medical doctors who didn’t know the first thing about the sport.
“I got involved because things needed to be changed and I’m an action person and we changed them.
“But you’ve got to take those risks and, at the end of the day, what are you going to lose? You may lose a partnership here and there but you’ve got to stick to the principles of sport and that’s why we have such great partners now.
“You’ve just got to go to it and right what’s wrong and there’s still plenty of work that needs doing.”
While Craven’s focus is perpetually pointed forwards there is plenty to look back on over a 16-year term taking in eight Winter and Summer Paralympic Games and he leaves the IPC having helped change the landscape of Paralympic sport forever.
In terms of ticket sales, the Paralympic Games are now the world’s third biggest sport event – only the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup sell more. TV audiences have grown from a cumulative 300 million for the Sydney 2000 Paralympics before Sir Philip took over to more than 4.1 billion in 154 countries for his final Games in Rio in 2016.
As a result of the growth of the Paralympics during Sir Philip’s 16 years, the impact the Games have on society has significantly increased. Today, the Paralympic Games is considered the world’s number one sport event for driving social inclusion with athletic performances having a seismic impact on changing attitudes towards people with an impairment.
“People have been asking me to reflect for a while now and every time I am asked I have to stop and think about it,” said Craven.
“There’s one simple statement that I have made and that is that we have started to transform the movement from a disability sports organisation to an international sports organisation.
“And the Paralympic spirit – which is fundamental to attracting the right partners, sponsors and TV companies – is so important to be embedded into the organisation.
“A big transformation right at the core is the spirit of sport and the Paralympic spirit and that’s what we have that very few other sports organisations have.”
While he may not be one for looking back, as Craven ponders retirement he can reflect on a truly historic era for the Paralympic movement.