Sir Philip Craven played wheelchair basketball in the 1960s competing as a member of the GB team from the 1968 Tel Aviv Games until the European Championships in 1994. He chaired the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) and was President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) from 2001 and 2017. He is Honorary President of the National Paralympic Heritage Trust.

Sir Philip Craven playing wheelchair basketball in 1984 Sir Philip Craven, Eva Loeffler and Dr Guttmanns great grandchildren cut the ribbon at the official opening.

Sir Philip Craven competing at the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympics and opening the National Paralympic Heritage Centre in 2019

The impact of the 1992 Barcelona Games on Sir Philip

Classification of wheelchair basketball

Watch Sir Philip Craven describe the battle within wheelchair basketball to change the system of player classification that began in the late 1970s and culminated in 1982-3

An extract from a 2013 interview with Sir Philip where he gives a whistle stop tour through the games from 1972 in Heidelberg through what he sees as the pivotal change for Paralympic basketball in 1992 in Barcelona and finishing with the Games in Sydney in 2000.

 “Then in 70 we had wonderful indoor facilities at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh and then we went on to Heidelberg, ‘cos it wasn’t in Munich in 72, it was in Heidelberg, but still the facilities as I remember them were for me tremendous. Cos of course I’m developing now – I’m only 22 there and I remember in 72 seeing Ed Owen, the great American player, the TV came down just to film him shooting baskets and it seemed to me that like in 15 minutes I don’t know if he missed more than 2 or 3... And so all this was developing already in my mind.

I was seeing the potential of the sport of wheelchair basketball.

But really that was 72, then we went through 76, Toronto, which was a bit of a side event in comparison to what was going on in Montreal. And similarly of course nothing happened in the Soviet Union in 1980, it was in Arnhem and the only thing I remember from that is they’d got some sponsor of flooring to put down the flooring for the wheelchair basketball court but it was this sprung spongy flooring which was useless for wheelchairs - it might have been ok for runners and jumpers in stand-up basketball. And I remember having to fill in a five-page questionnaire towards the end of the tournament with regard to injuries we’d sustained, because it was like pushing through sand trying to play wheelchair [basketball], terrible – so again another example of something that was really bad for the sport. 84, the guy ran off with the money from the University of Illinois, so we were in Stoke Mandeville - again a very small basketball arena, but packed all the time and great atmosphere from it. So that was 84. 

88, for the first time the games came back to be with the Olympics in Seoul; great facilities, but when you’ve got about a thousand spectators in a facility that’ll hold 15,000 it’s not very good; it would've been better to have been in a facility where maybe there were seats only for a thousand and it was packed. So, Seoul it was great that the principle that we came back together with the Olympics but then that relationship had to develop, and of course I had nothing to do with the developing of that relationship at that time in 88. I retired in 88 but then became president of IWBF, I was technical delegate for wheelchair basketball for the next three summer games, which were Barcelona, Atlanta and then Sydney.

It was Barcelona that really (and I still say this to this day, even after by far the greatest games ever in London last year) were the games that made the biggest difference, where there was no charge, it was free entry, but the stadia were packed out. On the first night of a pretty poor women’s wheelchair basketball game between Spain and the USA there were six and half thousand watching that; the following night the Spanish men’s team took on the USA, there were twelve and a half thousand inside and four thousand outside who were being told to go and watch it on their TVs at home.

And so it was the first time that hundreds of thousands (and I’m sure in the end it was probably one and a half million) fans came out to watch Paralympic sport and (something clicked in my head then) that was it, we’re on a roll here! And[in] my view of the International Paralympic Committee, (which had been founded in 89, but was not responsible for the games in 92; it was a former organisation which ran those; the first games they [IPC] were responsible for was the winter games in Lillehammer in 94) they did not pick up on the potential of the Paralympics; we didn’t have a good games in Atlanta (like they didn’t have good Olympic Games) where money, money, money was the only thing that counted and nobody saw that Paralympic sport and the Paralympic games could generate any money therefore we had very poor games in Atlanta; and then we had brilliant games again in Sydney. And it was Sydney that took what I’d seen (and I hoped others had seen) in Barcelona and really brought it to the world. I mean there were more spectators watching wheelchair basketball in Sydney than there were for basketball in the Olympics (the reason being that there were a lot less media so there were a lot more paying seats available, that’s the reason, I’m only making the point).

Sydney was amazing and the Paralympic movement has been growing at a rapid pace ever since. But it’s that Barcelona experience that’s still so bright in my mind.

Download a pdf file of the full transcript here