By Mike Rowbottom

Mike Rowbottom ©insidethegamesBefore being elected for a fourth and final term as President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) - which celebrated its silver anniversary last Monday (September 22) - Sir Philip Craven faced an initially surprising challenge in the form of fellow Briton Alan Dickson, who was nominated by the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA).

Speaking to insidethegames shortly before the vote in Athens on November 24 last year, Sir Philip commented: "I have a rival. The surprise is no longer there. That's fine. There will be a fight, and as a fairly tough ex-wheelchair basketball player I am more than ready for that."

Sir Philip, now 64, won that particular fight hands down by 127 votes to 20.  This native of Bolton, Lancashire had demonstrated his "fairly tough" qualities very clearly at the age of 16 when he overcame the trauma of losing the use of his legs after a rock climbing accident.

He went on to represent Great Britain at five Paralympics from 1972 - when he also competed in track and field and swimming at the Games - to 1988. During his time as a Para-athlete he collected world, European and Commonwealth golds.

Sir Philip Craven (right) pictured last November after his election for a fourth term as IPC President, has his hand shaken by the rival whom he beat 127-20 in the election, Alan Dickson ©George SantamourisSir Philip Craven (right) pictured last November after his election for a fourth term as IPC President, has his hand shaken by the rival whom he beat 127-20 in the election, Alan Dickson ©George Santamouris

Having retained his pre-eminent position, however, Sir Philip Craven has had to ride with the punches as the IPC has been caught up in what has been a disturbance in the Paralympic force as a result of the murder trial of its most celebrated recent competitor, Oscar Pistorius - who was found guilty this month of culpable homicide following the shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year.

While the six-times Paralympic champion sprinter, who bridged the gap to competing at the Olympics and International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships on his two prosthetic "blades", awaits sentencing on October 13, the IPC has found itself having to state and re-state its position vis-à-vis the most famous Paralympian of all time.

The IPC announcement that Pistorius would be free to return to competition, and perhaps even the Rio 2016 Paralympics, once he had satisfied the requirements of the South African justice system, earned widespread criticism from those who felt this particular athlete should never be allowed to race as a Paralympian again, even if he had seen out whatever punishment he was due.

Sir Philip then went out of his way to stress that the IPC was merely stating its legal obligations, but that it was in no way helping or promoting a return to the track for Pistorius.

On the day of the 25th anniversary, September 22, the IPC was forced into further defensive action as it denied there had been any "ulterior motive" in not including Pistorius in any of the top 25 moments of history in the organisation's first 25 years as voted for by the 13 IPC board members.

That said, there would probably have been as much of a furore had Pistorius been featured in the list, particularly if he was at the top of it.

Tricky days indeed for Sir Philip, who received his knighthood in June 2005. And what he is doing now is exactly what he has been doing all the way through his Presidency - that is, working very hard at getting things right.

Sir Philip Craven pictured at the flame-lighting ceremony in Athens ahead of the 2004 Paralympics ©Getty ImagesSir Philip Craven pictured at the flame-lighting ceremony in Athens ahead of the 2004 Paralympics ©Getty Images

The IPC, set-up to be "the only world multi-disability organisation with the right to organise the Paralympic and multi-disability world Games, as well as World Championships", was formed at a meeting in Düsseldorf on September 22, 1989, under Canadian founding President Robert Steadward.

It has since grown rapidly and today employs nearly 70 full-time staff and boasts more than 200 members made up of National Paralympic Committees, International Federations, International Organisations of Sport for the Disabled and Regional Organisations.

It also serves as the International Federation for nine sports, for which it supervises and coordinates the World Championships and other competitions.

"I've been President of the IPC for 12 years and in that time I've come to realise that good things don't just happen by chance," Sir Philip said. "A lot of people in the Paralympic Movement were working away for many, many years ahead of the London 2012 Paralympics. To forge a great team takes around 10 years.

"We are now looking at Paralympics in Rio, Pyeongchang and Tokyo - different cultures, and the challenge will be to replicate the same standards in these very different places.

"The Paralympic Movement is all about flexibility - it has had to be to grow, and at times it has been necessary to have two-way and sometimes three-way conversations. We are proud about that.

"Look where we have been over the last few years - the United States, Greece, Italy, China, Canada, Britain and Russia, the biggest nation in the world in terms of size. It's amazing.

"What you have to do is not to expect the same principles and values as your own particular culture. You have got to get to know different people, and different countries."

The IPC will celebrate its silver jubilee with a special gala dinner for hundreds of members and special guests who have played a pivotal role in its success in Berlin in early October.

Either side of the dinner, between October 3 to 5, the IPC will also host a strategic conference involving both IPC members and other key parties from the wider Paralympic Movement to advise on its future direction.

"Those who gather for our celebration in Berlin will also be invited to offer their views on how best we might manage the next quarter of a century within the Paralympic Movement," Sir Philip said.

"At this point in the Movement's history, I see three key objectives. The first is to maintain the momentum we have gained following the 2008 Beijing Games and the London 2012 Games, and also following on from the successful Sochi Winter Games earlier this year. As we go, we have to adapt to different cultures and different concerns - but that is one of the thrills of being in this job.

Charl Bouwer of South Africa stands on the podium having broken the S13 400m freestyle swimming world record at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, where the IPC experienced a great leap forward ©Gallo Images/Getty ImagesCharl Bouwer of South Africa stands on the podium having broken the S13 400m freestyle swimming world record at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, where the IPC experienced a great leap forward ©Gallo Images/Getty Images

"The second objective is to get more people to participate in Paralympic sports across the world, not necessarily at the elite level but for fun. We want more people to experience the transformational power of taking part in sport, and we are being assisted in this aim by the work of the Agitos Foundation.

"The third aspect we have to concentrate upon is the need to continue improving the standards and attractiveness of Paralympic sport to all parties.

"We had a great summer Olympics in Beijing, which really confirmed the programme we had been working on for between eight and ten years. And when we got to the London 2012 Games the whole thing really took off. We knew we had really arrived.

"Sochi held a great Paralympic Games, and as we come to the end of our third four-year structure plan in 2014 we have maintained our momentum as a Movement.

"That now has to be sustained at the Rio 2016 Games, which are absolutely crucial to our continued success, and onwards through to the 2020 Tokyo Games."

Given his personal background, it is hardly surprising that Sir Philip's reaction to a question about specific challenges facing the IPC should be the following:

"Challenges? I always view challenges as opportunities. What we have got to do in terms of the second and third points in our objectives is to get far more athletes participating in Paralympic sports.

"I was honoured recently to watch the basketball event during the Invictus Games - which have nothing to do with us as an organisation, by the way - and it reminded me once again how transformational sport can be for people.

"But at the London 2012 Paralympics, there were 46 competing countries out of 165 that only had one athlete competing. You can see that these are not the sort of team numbers we would want. We have got a lot of work to do.

"What is exciting, however, is that we have a positive message about the transformational social power of sport - and this really does ring bells with national Governments."

Asked about the potential threat to some track and field events at the Rio 2016 Paralympics because of a lack of registered athletes - the IPC announced that 27 of the 177 scheduled events are currently not meeting the minimum eligibility criteria as of June - Sir Philip responded:

"For the Rio 2016 Games we are trying to retain and re-install events for athletes with higher support needs, including athletes who may require someone to accompany them to the Games.

"We've changed the athletic programme at Rio in comparison to the London 2012 Games, and specifically there are two areas that will increase - events for athletes with high support needs and events for women.

"It may turn out as we get nearer to Rio 2016 that there is a difficulty in that the odd event may be insufficient numbers to justify its inclusion. If that's the case, when we get nearer the Games we may add substitute events.

"But I'm confident the vast majority of categories will be filled. What's needed now is a big effort to encourage athletes and officials to embrace the Paralympics."

Accordingly, the IPC has urged national federations to ensure that all athletes are registered and licensed in order to provide an accurate data reflection for each proposed event.

Any events which continue not to meet the criteria can be removed and replaced by a substitute in line with the Rio 2016 Event Replacement Policy.

Numbers aside, there is a continual imperative within the Paralympic Movement to ensure that classification, and potential differences in equipment enabled by rapidly advancing technology, remain fair and consistent.

Such matters are close to Sir Philip's heart, given his role in developing a revolutionary new classification for wheelchair basketball players in 1980. And he well recalls the major discussion set off by Pistorius' accusations after losing his T44 200 metres title to Alan Oliveira at the London 2012 Games that the Brazilian had gained an unfair advantage by lengthening his prostheses in the weeks before the Games.

Oscar Pistorius (right) insisted his defeat in the T44 200m at the London 2012 Paralympics was unfair because of the length of the prosthetics used by gold medallist Alan Oliveira (left). Sir Philip Craven felt the reaction had a lot to do with the fact that it was the South African's first defeat at the distance ©Getty ImagesOscar Pistorius (right) insisted his defeat in the T44 200m at the London 2012 Paralympics was unfair because of the length of the prosthetics used by gold medallist Alan Oliveira (left). Sir Philip Craven felt the reaction had a lot to do with the fact that it was the South African's first defeat at the distance ©Getty Images

"Oscar Pistorius did make certain criticisms, but as we made clear at the time the length of prosthetics used by his opponents was legal," Sir Philip said. "The rules relating to athletics equipment, such as prosthetic limbs, are not under constant review, but will be looked at from time to time.

"As far as Oscar's comments at the time were concerned, I think they had more to do with being beaten over 200 metres for the first time."

Asked to reflect upon some of his favourite moments at the head of the IPC, Sir Philip told insidethegames: "When we celebrated 20 years of the IPC's existence in 2009 I said that we had come from being a disability sports organisation to an international sports organisation.  That moment was one of my personal highlights.

"Others include two from the London 2012 Games - watching Patrick Anderson playing for Canada against Australia in the wheelchair basketball final, and Jonnie Peacock asking for quiet before his 100m final at the Olympic Stadium and then winning gold.

One of Sir Philip Craven's all-time favourite Paralympic moments - Britain's Jonnie Peacock wins the T44 100m at the London 2012 Paralympics ©Getty ImagesOne of Sir Philip Craven's all-time favourite Paralympic moments - Britain's Jonnie Peacock wins the T44 100m at the London 2012 Paralympics ©Getty Images

"The atmosphere in the stadium that night was a human expression of fun, love, sport. It was there for all to hear."

As he contemplates the next quarter century of the IPC, Sir Philip responds with a mixture of satisfaction and caution.

"I am so happy with the progress of the Paralympic Movement in the last quarter of a century, but that doesn't mean we will rest on our laurels," he said.

"It's quite simple - we want to get more potential athletes involved in Paralympic sports. That is my number one ambition.

"I would also like to see Paralympic sport more prominent on television channels and all the different means of communication now being developed around the world. Amazing developments in this area are taking place already.

"Although I am British I try very hard to be independent, but I could not help but feel so proud of the impact Paralympics had at the London 2012 Games."

As he looks ahead to the imminent Rio 2016 Games, which have received fierce criticism within the last year for the slow pace of preparations - and at which the venues have had to be altered for a number of Paralympic events including sitting volleyball - Sir Philip remains sanguine.

"I'm feeling very good about Rio 2016," he insisted. "These are not the only Games where changes have had to take place. It was the same in Beijing and London."

In May this year, an IPC spokesman made it clear that the organisation was maintaining a positive approach to the Rio 2016 state of readiness, although he added the rider that, if promised changes had not occurred by the end of this year, that attitude might change.

Sir Philip also maintained a positive take on the Rio 2016 readiness. "I will be in Rio in person in March next year for the Chef de Mission meeting," he said. "But I don't need to wait until next year to know about the progress that is being made.

"We have got people out there on a regular basis. And I am confident that if any catch-up has been needed, it has been achieved."

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, covered the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as chief feature writer for insidethegames, having covered the previous five summer Games, and four winter Games, for The Independent. He has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, The Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. His latest book Foul Play - the Dark Arts of Cheating in Sport (Bloomsbury £8.99) is available at the shop. To follow him on Twitter click here.