It was the summer of 1966, and that year, it had really come home: England had just won the FIFA World Cup. A wave of euphoria swept the nation and, while people across the country were celebrating the spirit of sport, one young man was lying in a hospital bed, grappling with a dramatic change of fate. The day before, he had been an energetic young athlete who loved sports wholeheartedly. He was good at tennis, cricket and swimming. That day, young Philip Craven had been on a rock-climbing trip with his friends at Wilton Quarries when he fell 10 meters and severed his spine. When he learned that he would not be able to use his legs anymore, he felt that he would never play sports ever again. He was just 16.
It didn't take long for his hope to return. Just three days after the accident, at the rehabilitation center where he was being treated, he saw wheelchair basketball being played outside. This, he thought, is something he can do. That thought, not the accident, would shape his entire life.
Philip Craven picked up the new sport a year after the accident and gradually became passionate about it. He was back in the game.
During time at university, he stepped it up and began training with a stand-up basketball team who had won the national championship, doing his best to keep up with able-bodied players. He later joined the Stoke Spitfires Wheelchair Basketball Club, and went on to play in five Paralympic Games for Great Britain, from 1972 through 1988.
Of all the tournaments he participated in, his favorite was the 1984 Paralympic Games, held in both Europe and North America, and his fourth appearance at the Games. The basketball game wasn't held in a big stadium, but he remembered the crowds were overwhelming. After his final match in Seoul 1988, he turned to the administrative side of sport. Working his way from secretary to president of the local wheelchair basketball organization, he found that he had the skills to run organizations. In 2001, Philip Craven was appointed President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), an important role that he would hold for the next 16 years.
"Being an IPC President wasn't always easy," he recalled. There were many obstacles and challenges along the way. He considered each challenge as an opportunity, and was able to achieve many great successes.
"Most of the time, bringing the Paralympic movement forward was about changing the mindset of people," he said. His mission was to create a movement that people would be interested in. His idea was to first make sure the people within the IPC were passionate about their work and their mission, and the rest would follow.
And it did. When he retired in 2017, the IPC wrote: "Under Sir Philip's watch, the IPC has developed a reputation for strong governance and integrity, growing Para sport globally and staging sport events that transform and enrich the lives of millions of people around the world and are watched by billions of TV viewers."
For his outstanding dedication and services to promote Paralympic sports, he was knighted by HRH Prince Charles in 2005. Since then, Sir Philip Craven went on and continued his battle in promoting the Paralympic Movement worldwide.
Gazing outside the window at Nagoya's summer heat, Sir Philip opens up about his most memorable experience during his years as IPC President―the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games. He recalls his struggle to overcome the difficult economic situation surrounding these Games―one of most challenging times in IPC history. Ticket sales were slower than expected and it looked like attendance would be extremely low. Leveraging the support of the City and the people of Rio de Janeiro, eventually two million tickets were sold, many to local residents who could otherwise not afford it, and the Rio Games became the most attended Paralympic games in history―the "People's Games" as he calls them.
Sir Philip turned 68 this year, and continues to fondly reflect on the days when he was an athlete, recognizing how it has shaped him into the person he is today. He remains a deeply competitive athlete, living by the motto: "Stick to your principles no matter how hard things get."
Playing sports taught him what fair play means. It taught him to keep trying, no matter how hard something looks. The same principles that helped him as an athlete helped him outside of sports as well. But, at the end of the day, the most important thing to him is his number one team―his wife, Jocelyne, and their two children, whom he turns to for the greatest support ever.
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