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
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’