Sir Philip Craven discusses this summer's Paralympic Games and it's legacy

PUBLISHED: 16:09 11 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:54 20 February 2013

Sir Philip pictured on a recent return visit to Bolton School. 
Photo by Karl Krame

Sir Philip pictured on a recent return visit to Bolton School. Photo by Karl Krame

Bolton's Philip Craven wants summer's Paralympic Games to have an effect far beyond the sporting arena, as Paul Mackenzie reports

The summer of 1966 was a great one for English sport but as the nation rode a wave of euphoria, Philip Cravens sporting dreams were changed in an instant. Just weeks after Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy, 16-year-old Philip suffered devastating injuries in a climbing accident at Bolton.

But despite having broken his back, Philip went on to be a successful sportsman and as president of the International Paralympic Committee he is now heavily involved in planning the 2012 Games in London.

I loved to play cricket, tennis, swimming and especially football, not that I was ever any good at that, he said. I was at Wilton Quarries with some friends. I was roped on but I was young and had not set the safety as I should have done. I put three quarters of my weight on a stone and it didnt budge but when I put all my weight on it I fell and broke my back.

It became obvious pretty quickly that I wasnt going to walk again. When youre in that situation you just get on with it. I was never depressed about the fact I was in a chair, there were so many opportunities for me, Id just be doing it sitting down.

After the accident I went to the spinal unit at Southport and a few days later I saw some people in wheelchairs playing basketball. Something registered in my head.

After completing his A-levels at Bolton School, Philip began a geography degree at university in Manchester but his studies came a distant second to his new love of wheelchair basketball.

I ended up with a first class honours in basketball and just scraping through in geography. Its one of the greatest sports in the world.

On leaving university he went to play for a team in France from 1972-74 where he won the league and the cup. He was also selected for the Great Britain team and appeared at five Paralympic Games, making the move in to sports administration after the 1988 Games in Seoul.

After spells in charge of the sports governing body in Britain and internationally he was elected president of the International Paralympic Committee in 2001 and next years Games in London will be the third he has overseen.

I am in a unique situation, he said. Normally I would be looking in at the organising committee from the outside but this time I am rather like the gamekeeper and the poacher. Its a great pleasure for me to be on the board and Im sure Locog [the organising committee] will deliver a brilliant Games.

Paralympic sport is great to watch and this is a great opportunity to increase the number of people involved in Paralympic sports. The GB team is aiming to finish second in the medals table China are pretty much unassailable but the legacy of the London Games should be an even greater chance of success at the Games in Rio four years later.
Much has been made of the legacy of the Games and Philip is hopeful that the Paralympics, which will feature 4,200 athletes from160 nations, can have an impact far beyond sport.

The long term objective is to remove the word disability from the lexicon, he said. The biggest difficulty I have faced is coming up against people who assume youre stupid because youre sitting down. It happens all over the world and it does still happen in this country.

Peoples ideas change when they come and see the Games. I think that once they see Paralympic sport they are amazed and inspired if that person can play sport they can do anything else. I hope the Games will to change perceptions but there is a lot of work to do.

And the 61-year-old, who now lives at Shavington, near Crewe, is also hoping for a fairytale homecoming for the mens wheelchair basketball team. They won the European championships this year for the first time since 1995 and Sir Philip he was knighted in the Queens birthday honours in 2005 said: I have this sneaking feeling that they might be able to win the gold medal. The reigning champions are Australia and itd be brilliant to beat the old enemy in the final in London.

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