Po­ten­tial for para sport is huge, says pres­i­dent

Sir Philip Craven has lifted move­ment’s pro­file but much work is to be done, he tells Gareth A Davies

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport -

It is hard to hold Sir Philip Craven back, his hands mov­ing as if con­duct­ing an orches­tra. His ebul­lience is bound­less. The for­mer five-time Par­a­lympic wheel­chair bas­ket­ball player and ex-trade union stalwart steps down as pres­i­dent of the Par­a­lympic move­ment in Septem­ber, at 67, hav­ing over­seen huge changes over his 16 years at the helm. But he is still talk­ing about the fu­ture.

“We need to man­age the growth of the In­ter­na­tional Par­a­lympic Com­mit­tee and the Par­a­lympic Move­ment. It is grow­ing up quickly, and it’s im­por­tant that the prin­ci­ples that have helped us reach this point don’t change,” he says.

“We are a sport or­gan­i­sa­tion that be­haves like a busi­ness, not a busi­ness that has sport as a prod­uct. We must re­main ‘ath­lete-cen­tred’ and true to our val­ues and be­liefs, fur­ther strengthen the Na­tional Par­a­lympic Com­mit­tees and In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tions around the world, and de­velop gen­der equal­ity and op­por­tu­ni­ties for ath­letes in all im­pair­ment groups, es­pe­cially those with high sup­port needs.

“The en­ergy that’s needed for this po­si­tion re­quires some­one on it for eight days a week. When I be­came pres­i­dent, I thought I could carry on as per­for­mance di­rec­tor for the men’s wheel­chair bas­ket­ball team maybe two or three days a week. For­get it.”

He re­calls the first time he saw the po­ten­tial for the move­ment to be ac­cepted as high-per­for­mance sport, at Barcelona in 1992. He was the new pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Wheel­chair Bas­ket­ball Fed­er­a­tion. Although crowds of 12,500 were watch­ing every night, the IPC was per­haps slow to re­alise the po­ten­tial. It has been a grad­ual process, and the step-change was in 2012.

“The first time we re­ally con­vinced an or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee that we would sell a huge amount of tick­ets was Lon­don. They kicked off at the

Rise of the Par­a­lympics Fi­nan­cial clout

IPC was viewed as a dis­abil­ity or­gan­i­sa­tion with lim­ited spon­sors, but its part­ners now in­clude Toy­ota, Pana­sonic, Sam­sung, BP and Al­lianz.

Record-break­ing TV high­lights

It had to fight for any TV cov­er­age 16 years ago, but now it has a global au­di­ence with over 20 as­signed live TV net­works in 160 coun­tries reach­ing an au­di­ence of bil­lions.

The hot ticket

Back then, there were no pay­ing spec­ta­tors: Syd­ney at­tracted over 1.2mil­lion but it was free. There were 2.8 mil­lion tick­ets sold in Lon­don in 2012, 1.8 mil­lion in 2016, and 300,000 sold for 2017. right time with one year to go in Trafal­gar Square on In­ter­na­tional Par­a­lympic Day. They sold a mil­lion tick­ets in three weeks af­ter that. We were on a roll. Lon­don re­ally took us into the outer lim­its.”

In­deed, 2.8mil­lion tick­ets were sold and Par­a­lympic sport came of age. That legacy has seen al­most 300,000 tick­ets sold for the World Para Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships, which end to­day af­ter 10 days at the Lon­don Sta­dium, in east Lon­don.

Craven says: “The im­pact Lon­don had on the peo­ple of Bri­tain ... one third – 20mil­lion of them – say their at­ti­tude to­wards peo­ple with an im­pair­ment has changed.

“We’re here for the long haul. Take these cham­pi­onships. The or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee have re­ally got into it. And then came the back­ing of the Mayor of Lon­don, Sadiq Khan. And UK Sport. And the Gov­ern­ment.

It’s tremen­dous. It’s a team.

“It’s just won­der­ful that this coun­try has awak­ened to para sport. It’s the Par­a­lympic spirit that is cre­at­ing this fan base and all the new spon­sors we have. If there is a legacy, it’s now we’re a recog­nised, and I think re­spected, in­ter­na­tional sports or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“One of the buzz words at the mo­ment is trans­parency, be­cause peo­ple view cer­tain sports or­gan­i­sa­tions as not be­ing trans­par­ent.

“I hope we’re viewed as trans­par­ent, but you have to be more than that. You’re ei­ther true to what you’re talk­ing about or you’re not.”

He talks again about prin­ci­ples and be­ing true to them. An ex­am­ple was the blan­ket ban on ath­letes af­ter the Rus­sian dop­ing In one of the most highly an­tic­i­pated bat­tles of the World Para Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships, Jonathan BroomEd­wards leapt to a sil­ver medal in the men’s T44 high jump be­hind Poland’s Ma­ciej Lepi­ato.

This was Broom-Ed­ward’s third sil­ver medal at a world cham­pi­onships, with Pol­ish op­po­nent Lepi­ato again spoil­ing his hopes of gold.

The Colch­ester ath­lete’s com­pe­ti­tion came to an end at 2.12m with Lepi­ato go­ing on to win with a clear­ance of 2.14m, but the in­spi­ra­tional ath­lete is a high flier in more ways than one.

With a de­gree in aero­nau­ti­cal en­gi­neer­ing, the 29-year-old, who played able-bod­ied bas­ket­ball at Lough­bor­ough Uni­ver­sity and now works as a soft-tis­sue ther­a­pist and clin­i­cal biomech­a­nist, is also study­ing for a pri­vate pi­lot’s li­cence. He aims to com­plete it once his ath­let­ics ca­reer is fin­ished.

Born with con­gen­i­tal tal­ipes equino­varus, more com­monly known as clubbed foot, Broom-Ed­wards’ con­di­tion means his left foot is a size and a half smaller than his right.

He lifts off on from the right, and his per­sonal best jump is 2.15me­tres. He scan­dal. I hope that, if not by Septem­ber’s gov­ern­ing board meet­ing, that soon af­ter the board will be able to lift NPC Rus­sia’s sus­pen­sion. That’s not be­cause I’m out of the way, but be­cause they have met the re­in­state­ment cri­te­ria.”

Craven says he is proud of where the move­ment is. When he came in in 2001, there was too much reliance on dis­abil­ity hand­outs.

“The spon­sors and part­ners we’re get­ting now – they want the Par­a­lympic spirit. If we think of BP, Al­lianz, these are ma­jor com­pa­nies. Pana­sonic. Asics, who are spon­sor­ing IPC ath­let­ics.

“We looked at Toy­ota and the way they’ve gone in with us in such a way that they want a pres­ence in every one of our 179 na­tions. It’s not there yet, but we’ve got to progress.”

His suc­ces­sor will be elected by the IPC’s 195 mem­bers in Septem­ber. An­drew Parsons, the cur­rent vi­cepres­i­dent, from Brazil, is re­garded as the favourite, ahead of Haida Zhang of China.

Canada’s Pa­trick Jarvis and John Peters­son from Den­mark are also in the run­ning.

‘Lon­don 2012 took us to outer lim­its. Ma­jor com­pa­nies want the Par­a­lympic spirit now’

Leap of faith: Jonathan Broom-Ed­wards heads to his third world sil­ver medal in the T44 high jump. His great ri­val Ma­ciej Lepi­ato, of Poland, won gold

Sir Philip Craven: ‘We’re recog­nised and re­spected’

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