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Interview: Sir Philip Craven

Owen Evans talks to Sir Philip Craven – peacemaker, broadcast negotiator and marketer – about winning the SportBusiness International 2014 Innovator of the Year title.

The problems began the moment he landed in Russia.

Sir Philip Craven had been warned that he would need to be on his guard ahead of the biggest winter Paralympics in history – and political conflict between Russia and Ukraine was not something the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) ever wanted to get involved with.

"Just between myself and President [Vladimir] Putin, before the Paralympics started, I put it in writing that I was aware what was going on in Ukraine, and in particular the situation in Crimea, and said we were only going to be there for sport," Craven told SportBusiness International.

Sir Philip had already received word from a colleague that all was not going to be well over the course of what he hoped would be the most successful winter Olympics and Paralympics in history.

“Let’s just put it very simply," Craven adds. "Thomas Bach (president of the International Olympic Committee) indicated to me that things had not gone completely smoothly during the Olympics regarding the political issues with president Putin and Ukraine, and that created a readiness in me."

During Sir Philip's journey from Manchester to Sochi, the phone rang just after 9pm during the stopover at a hotel in Moscow.

"It was the president of the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee," he says. "During our phone conversation he told me he had considerable concerns about participating due to what was going on [with the conflict in Crimea].

"I’ve read that as president you have to be a man for all seasons, and I’m afraid that does crop up from time to time, using different guises."

Political Manoeuvring
On his first morning in Sochi, Sir Philip arranged a meeting with organising committee head Dmitry Chernyshenko to try to solve the problem. Two days later he engineered an emergency meeting with the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee that began after dinner and went well beyond midnight.

A solution was reached: to prevent the PR disaster of the Ukrainian Paralympic team pulling out of the Games, Sir Philip had engineered a rendez-vous between the protestors, Vladimir Putin and the organising committee, just 24 hours before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Games.

"It was also the day that the Ukrainian flag was raised in the athlete’s village, so a ceremony was scheduled to take place," Craven adds.

“It seemed that this ceremony was going to be a flashpoint, so through our meetings we were able to get the head of the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee and a senior Russian official together before it was due to take place in Adler.

“Now, I have no idea what they discussed in that room, but the Ukrainian team remained in the Paralympics, and they only sent one athlete out at the parade of nations in the opening ceremony, which was a gesture that was actually very well received by the Russians."

Building Relations
Sir Philip's peacekeeping didn't end there, as he helped to set up a lunch with Putin and the heads of the NPCs (national Paralympic committees) to build relations while the Games were going on.

On the eve of the closing ceremony, the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee also made a final plea to Sir Philip to twist Putin's arm regarding its training centre – based in Crimea and therefore in the area central to political conflict between the two countries – asking him to speak to the Russian president and reinforce the importance one last time.

Sir Philip followed up with a letter. On one side he thanked Putin for hosting the largest ever Paralympics. On the reverse side was a plea to allow the Ukrainians to continue to use the training centre regardless of international politics. For extra effect, it was hand delivered by Sir Philip to Putin's staff at the Kremlin.

"Not long afterwards," adds Sir Philip. "I received a letter from the Russian consulate in Bonn (Germany), where we are based, stating that a decree had been passed saying that despite the occupation of Crimea by Russia, this training centre had been protected for the use of Ukraininan Paralympians."

This example of entrepreneurial peacekeeping is not the only reason Sir Philip won this year's award, thanks to the commercial innovation his Movement has achieved through revolutionary deals with sponsors, increased broadcast exposure on American TV and creative media strategies to secure greater journalistic coverage.

However, positioning his Movement in the pocket of world leaders has allowed Sir Philip to rapidly enhance the profile of the IPC this year.

And in his own words: "You ain't seen nothing yet".

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