IPC President opens IPC Membership Gathering in Berlin

Sir Philip Craven's speech from the opening of the IPC Membership Gathering, celebrating 25 years of the global governing body and looking ahead to the future. 04 Oct 2014
Sir Philip Craven speaking on stage

IPC President Sir Philip Craven speaks at the IPC membership Gathering in Berlin on 3 October 2014

ⒸJoachim Radtke

More than 300 people from the International Paralympic Committee membership are in Berlin, Germany, for the IPC Membership Gathering in Berlin. Over three days, the membership will help shape the future of the Paralympic Movement.

Sir Philip Craven, IPC President, opened the event with the following speech.

Good morning and welcome to Berlin for the IPC Strategic Gathering.

I know that you have travelled from all over the world to be here this weekend so I appreciate your effort in joining us for these vitally important three days.

We are here because last year, you, the IPC membership, were loud and clear in saying that you wanted an opportunity to contribute to the future direction of the IPC and the development of the Paralympic Movement.

I pledged in my election manifesto that if re-elected for a fourth term I would look to bring the Paralympic Movement together for an open dialogue on our future, and here we are today.

When you look back at the Paralympic Movement, it is fate that once again we are here in Germany, a country that has had such a strong influence on our history.

The first sport clubs for people with an impairment were created in Berlin in 1888 and of course it was a German, Sir Ludwig Guttmann who widely introduced the world to para-sport when he staged the first Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948.

Dusseldorf was the city where the IPC was founded 25 years ago, and today Bonn is where the IPC headquarters is based.

Whilst it’s important that between now and Sunday we reflect on what we have achieved together over the last 25 years, it is crucial that we listen, debate, discuss and shape where we go from here.

Together we have achieved a lot in a short space of time, but we cannot afford to be complacent and dwell on our successes so far.

The sporting world is evolving all the time and we need to be leading the way, working together to overcome the challenges we face and take advantage of the many opportunities that are out there.

We have the potential to create our own history here in Berlin over the next three days and we do not have a moment to waste.

Before I look to the future, however, I would first like to reflect on what has been achieved by all of us since 22 September 1989, when the IPC was created.

To start with, I suspect not one of the 203 participants who attended that ground breaking meeting 25 years ago, including founding President Dr. Robert Steadward who joins us today, expected the IPC to grow into what is has become today.

This is testament to the visionaries who were involved in that Dusseldorf meeting and everyone who has contributed to the IPC ever since.

The easiest way to measure a quarter of a century of growth is to chart the success of the Paralympic Games, the greatest global showcase of what the Paralympic Movement has to offer.

We were most fortunate that the Barcelona 92 Games, the last to be organised by the ICC, acted as a turning point for the entire Paralympic Movement.

For the first time ever the Games benefitted from daily live domestic TV coverage and, in some areas, comparable levels of organisation and service to the Olympic Games.

The passion of the local people ensured sports were played out in front of packed venues and gave us all a glimpse of the Games’ true potential.

Sydney 2000 realised much of that potential, taking us onto the next level.

They benefitted from astounding levels of competition, organisation and public awareness.

Ticket sales broke the one million barrier and the Games were shown live on the internet for the first time to more than 100 countries via a company called We Media.

Although Sydney 2000 was a fantastic spectacle, taking us to the next level, the Games were not without incident.

The scandal of the gold medal winning Spanish basketball team for intellectual impairment featuring many players without an impairment at all, led to global headlines for all the wrong reasons.

As a result, legitimate intellectually impaired athletes missed out on the Athens and Beijing Games, until a satisfactory new eligibility system was identified that reliably determined which athletes had the right to compete.

Following the success of Sydney, future Organising Committees were starting to see the value of the Paralympic Games, however it took much work by the IPC to get them to the position and the status they enjoy today.

In 2001, the IPC hit a major problem when We Media, who we had signed a six year broadcasting and internet webcasting agreement with, went bankrupt.

They never paid the IPC once. Financially out of pocket, the IPC took back responsibility for the broadcasting rights for Athens and Torino.

Salt Lake City was my first winter sports experience and I have to say I was blown away by the athlete performances.

As a former athlete, I knew the importance of good accommodation and facilities for athletes, and what Salt Lake City had was a top quality compact athlete village with all competitors in one location.

I stayed there with my wife for a couple of nights during the Games and the atmosphere amongst the athletes and officials was sensational and a model for future Games.

Six years later and Beijing really were the Games where the world stood up and started to take notice of the Paralympic Games and the wider Paralympic Movement.

Who can forget Hou Bin climbing that rope in the Opening Ceremony at the Bird’s Nest stadium, Esther Vergeer’s amazing comeback to win wheelchair tennis gold or the sheer investment Beijing and China put into making their city and their country far more accessible ahead of the Games.

The Games changed Chinese society forever and also made a huge impression on Seb Coe who was attending the Games together with a great number of London 2012 staff and commercial partners.

They saw first-hand how successful the Games could be and soon started plotting how London 2012 could be even better; proof that one Games should inspire the next.

As a Brit I’m particularly proud of what London 2012 delivered.

They were the best Paralympic Games ever on so many levels, breaking multiple records and creating seismic shifts in attitudes and perceptions.

The athletic performances were outstanding and the Games finally generated the widespread media and broadcast coverage the Games have always craved and deserved.

The most recent Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi were also ground breaking. They were the most viewed winter Games ever, attracting more than two billion viewers for the first time, whilst the barrier free environment created in Sochi has become a blueprint for accessibility for the rest of Russia.

As the Games have grown in size and scale so has their impact on society. No other sporting event in the world can change attitudes and perceptions quite like the Paralympic Games. Today, they are a fantastic showcase of sport and an event that can act as a catalyst for a more inclusive society.

There are many areas where the Games have improved over the last 25 years, but I think the biggest improvement has been in the performances of the athletes.

This is down to you the IPC membership, the National Paralympic Committees, International Federations, IOSDs, volunteers, officials, classifiers and administrators.

You are the ones responsible for the development of para-athletes, many of which are now full-time and benefit from training programmes and sport science that are equal to their Olympic counterparts.

As a result of the quantum leap forward in athletic performances, it is only recently that we have been truly able to position the Games as a high performance sporting event, further increasing their appeal to global broadcasters and the media.

Key to the growth of the Paralympic Games in the last 25 years has, of course, been our partnership with the International Olympic Committee.

The first IOC-IPC Agreement signed in 2000 by Presidents Steadward and Samaranch provided rock solid foundations on which the Paralympic Movement could build.

The “One Bid, One City” Agreement signed a year later has firmly established the Paralympics as part of a 60-day festival of sport alongside the Olympics.

Although the Agreement was signed in 2001, the first Games to actually be impacted by it were Beijing in 2008. By London 2012, the Paralympics had grown into the third biggest sporting event in the world.

Our relationship with the IOC has grown stronger each year and is now one of partnership as opposed to co-operation as it used to be.

I am delighted that Sam Ramsamy, IOC delegate member to sport for athletes with a disability, who you will hear from shortly, can be with us this weekend.

Where we are now with the IOC is a long way away from late 2002 when, I had to go and see IOC President Jacques Rogge and ask for a loan of one million US Dollars, just to keep the IPC functioning whilst also permitting some limited investment.

Today the IPC is financially stable, having generated record revenues in 2013, and is close to paying off the loan to the IOC.

This is in part due to the IOC-IPC Partnership Agreement signed in 2012 which led to a sizeable increase in the marketing and broadcasting rights fees paid by Paralympic Games organisers.

The IOC is also investing USD 8 million in the IPC between 2013 and 2016 and supporting the IPC through brand protection and other areas.

I would like to thank the IOC for their fruitful co-operation over the past 14 years.

Over the last 25 years, the IPC has also developed a strong portfolio of commercial partnerships with blue-chip companies. I refer to them as partnerships, as our relationship with Atos, Ottobock, Samsung, Visa, Allianz and BP are not just based purely on money.

They offer the IPC plenty of support in many areas, and I am grateful to Allianz, BP, DB Schenker, Visa and the Federal Ministry of the Interior for the support they have given the IPC in organising this Strategic Gathering and tomorrow night’s Gala Dinner.

A number of commercial partners are now starting to support some of the IPC sports, as they realise their potential outside of the Paralympic Games.

The nine IPC sports each now have four-year-long strategic plans and long-term sporting calendars. Plans are in place for their further development and eventual independence, following the likes of Equestrian sport, table tennis, archery and cycling, four former IPC sports that saw their governance transferred to their equivalent International Federations between 2006 and 2007.

Many things have changed over the last 25 years, but what has and always will make the Paralympic Movement so special is you, its people.

You are the Movement, the dedicated IPC member organisations with your expansive volunteer networks who are the reason why the IPC finds itself in the position it is in today.

It was volunteers who started the Movement many years ago and they still fulfil a crucial role even though more paid staff with a volunteer ethic, I hasten to add, are involved in para-sport at both the national and international level than ever before.

Today, the IPC, its sports and the Agitos Foundation employ nearly 70 full-time staff at our headquarters in Bonn, Germany. It’s hard to believe that when we moved there just 15 years ago the IPC did not have one full-time member of staff on its payroll. In fact it did not have a payroll!

So many people have contributed to the IPC’s success over the last 25 years, and every single contribution has made a sizeable difference.

You have helped transform the IPC from a disability sports organisation in to one of the most respected and fastest growing international sports governing bodies in the world.

To recap, just how far we have come in the last 25 years, I’d like you to take a look at this short video.

Although we should be fiercely proud of what we have achieved, in my view what’s past is gone.

We now have to look to the future and ensure the Paralympic Movement continues to develop.

We are enjoying a prolonged growth spurt at the moment and I believe we have to focus on four key areas to build on this momentum.

The first one is consolidating the success of the Paralympic Games.

As mentioned earlier, the Games have grown into the world’s third biggest sporting event; only the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup are now bigger.

This is a considerable achievement when you consider it was not until 22 years ago in Barcelona that we had live TV for the first time or large crowds.

The Games now feature thousands of highly trained athletes from over 160 countries. A growing number are household names who perform in front of capacity crowds, whilst billions more watch on TV around the globe.

London 2012 and Sochi 2014 raised the level in many areas for all future Paralympic Games. Our goal now is to ensure that this level never drops and that the Rio 2016, PyeongChang 2018 and Tokyo 2020 Games continue to build on the successes of recent years.

No two Games are ever the same. Each edition is unique, and present different cultures and challenges which we must adapt to and embrace.

I am extremely excited however about what lies ahead.

Rio 2016, the first Games in South America, is vitally important for us. The Games there are an opportunity to bring para-sport to the whole of the Americas, a territory in terms of TV audiences and participation that offers massive potential.

Some of my colleagues were in Rio this week for the latest IOC Co-ordination Commission and they, like me, are confident everything will be ready in time for the Paralympics and the Carioca will ensure the party atmosphere there is like nothing we’ve ever experienced before.

PyeongChang 2018 offers the Paralympic Movement so many opportunities, but one I want them to really focus on is delivering the best sporting competition to date.

Looking at the age range of athletes who competed in Sochi there was so much young talent. For example, in alpine skiing, nearly half of all gold medallists were aged 23 or under.

This talent pool will be even stronger in four years’ time, whilst more youngsters are sure to make their breakthrough between now and 2018.

Looking further ahead to Tokyo 2020, I honestly think these may be the Games that propel the Paralympic Movement to new unimaginable levels.

The commitment and enthusiasm that the Organising Committee has shown so far is infectious and on Tuesday the IPC Governing Board will meet to discuss the sports programme for 2020 with the aim of ensuring the best para-sports possible make the final cut.

The second key area we have to focus on is increasing the number of people practicing para-sport around the world at all levels from the grassroots right through to the elite and the Paralympic Games.

The practice of sport can do a lot for society and the world needs to realise the value of individuals practicing sport and, in particular, para-sport.

Para-sport has a transformational power in changing society’s attitudes and perceptions towards impairment. It makes for a more inclusive society and gives people who may not see themselves as having a great future, the chance to realise they indeed have a potentially wonderful future.

When it comes to the Paralympic Games we have to increase the number of athletes coming from different countries around the world.

At London 2012, 46 of the 164 competing countries sent just one athlete to the Games. At Sochi 2014, just five of the 45 participating countries provided nearly half of all the athletes.

This is not sustainable.

We must improve the depth of talent coming from each country, whilst working together to increase the number of female athletes and athletes with high support needs.

The starting point has to be with National Paralympic Committees and national federations partnering with national governments to develop all sports for all impairment types at the grassroots level.

Sport has to be fun and only by getting more people active at the grassroots level can we start developing the Paralympians of tomorrow. The Agitos Foundation which was launched in August 2012 will support this process through its various programmes of work, in particular to those countries and sports that need the most developmental and financial assistance.

The third area we have to focus on is improving the quality, quantity and profile of the many para-sport events in between the Paralympic Games.

If we are serious about taking the Paralympic Movement to the next level, then we cannot just rely solely on the Paralympic Games every four years.

We have to use the world and regional events staged each year around the world as a platform to improve athletic performance, increase the number of participants and improve the level of media and broadcast coverage.

Every other sport is doing this and we must not be left behind.

Ultimately by making our events in between the Games better, the Paralympic Games will become even better as a result.

Finally, as the IPC and the wider Paralympic Movement increases in size, we must protect our identity, our values of courage, determination, equality and inspiration and the attributes that got us to where we are today.

We must never lose what makes the IPC and Paralympic Movement so special, sacrificing what has led to so many years of success.

To finish I just want to say something about the IPC’s vision which was launched in 2003.

It is “to enable Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.”

Over the next three days here in Berlin, in the many sessions you will be involved with, I want you to keep at the forefront of your mind how we can take this vision a step further and how we can all inspire and excite the entire world.

Thank you.