With more than 35 years’ experience in the elite sports industry in Australia, Commonwealth Games Australia (CGA) CEO Craig Phillips has today been honoured as a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia, ‘for significant service to high profile sporting organisations through executive roles’.
CGA CEO Craig Phillips joins four-time Delhi 2010 gymnastics gold medallist Lauren Mitchell, Melbourne 2006 basketball gold medallist Erin Phillips, Commonwealth Games Australia’s South Australia State Division President Joe Stevens, along with several grassroots Commonwealth Sport coaches and administrators honoured in the 2021 Queens Birthday awards for their service to sport.
CEO since 2015, Phillips has dedicated his working life to sport – locally, nationally and globally, including nine years as CEO of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and as a member of its Executive Board & the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia Board.
From 2005 to 2014, Craig successfully led the AOC’s relationship with its 40 member National Sports Federations, the national network of Institutes of Sport and other peak sporting organisations – both nationally & internationally.
He has been involved in the successful planning, management & leadership of 12 Australian Olympic (Summer & Winter) Teams – Barcelona 1992 to Sochi 2014. Craig’s membership of these teams saw him become the most capped Olympic Team official in Australian sporting history.
Phillips served on the Oceania National Olympic Committees Executive and the Board of the Gold Coast 2018 (GC2018) Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC) in addition to the GC2018 Sport and Technical Committee and GC2018 Joint Marketing Committee.
He is currently a committee member at the Carbine Club of NSW and a member of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) Sports Committee.
CGA President Ben Houston said being bestowed with a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia honour is a fitting tribute for Phillips.
“On behalf of Commonwealth Games Australia, our board, our sport partners and our staff, I congratulate Craig on being made a Member of the Order of Australia,” Houston said.
“The Member of the Order of Australia is a fitting tribute for Craig’s three decades of dedicated service to Australia’s elite sport industry and a testament of his passion for sport.
“This award acknowledges Craig’s commitment to Australia’s elite sport industry and his passion and focus on ensuring the best outcomes for Australian athletes.”
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For Phillips himself, the honour is a humbling recognition of his career, a tribute to the colleagues and fellow administrators he has worked with along the way and an acknowledgement for his own family of their constant support and sacrifices they have made to support him over the past three decades.
“For people who work in the sports industry for a long time, you don’t do what we do for awards, but this is a great honour and humbling to receive it,” Phillips said.
“The award reflects the really terrific people who I have worked with over the years in both the Olympic and Commonwealth Sport Movements, where people step up every day, and they know their job is to do the best they can for Australia’s athletes.
“While this is a great honour to receive the award personally, from my point of view, it is very much a recognition of my family and the role that they have played in my journey over the 30 years.
“The strong support of my family and the sacrifices they have made has provided me the opportunity to do what I love… so while I get the honour, I certainly share it with all of them.”
Craig meeting with Prince William and Kate Middleton at the London 2012 Olympics. (Supplied)
Phillips began his sporting journey as an athlete, including representing Australia in modern pentathlon at the 1979 Junior World Championships and other events around the world, which he believes has influenced his approach to sports administration and management and ignited his passion for sport.
“I was never what you consider to be an elite athlete but being able to represent my country as a junior athlete was important for me and it is what gave me a passion for sport and being involved in sport,” Phillips said.
“I think that getting the international perspective when I was very young and being part of the elite sport industry that surrounds teams which represent the green and gold, really kick started my sports administration career when I decided that I wasn’t going to pursue a career as an athlete anymore.”
His role with the AOC resulted in Phillips serving on the planning, management and leadership teams of 12 Olympics (six summer and six winter) from the Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics through to Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, becoming Australia’s most capped Olympic Team official.
“I am fortunate that I have been able to attend 12 Olympic Games… it certainly has been a unique privilege,” Phillips said.
“What always kept me engaged during the Games was that each time an athlete came to the Games they wanted to do their best or they wanted to do better than the last time and they want to continue to improve on their performances.
“I wanted to do the same… I always kept in mind my role was to make sure that athletes were in a position to have their best day on the day that mattered.
“That is what matters to me the most.”
Phillips can regale with stories of swelting in the Barcelona heat while waiting to walk out at the Opening Ceremony at the 1992 Olympics, knowing the reason why a security guard was carrying Cathy Freeman‘s shoes after winning gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, being in awe witnessing Usain Bolt triumph in the 100m at the London 2012 Olympics or his photo-like memory recall of all the Australian Opening Ceremony team uniform pieces, but it is largely the small moments where he has been able to help an athlete that he cherishes above all.
“The moments I reflect on now are those little moments where you may have just done something that made a very specific point of a difference for an athlete,” Phillips said.
“The things where the athletes may not even think of, but they stick in my mind.
“Whether it was driving Grant Hackett in a golf cart to his final training session before he went on to win gold in the 1500m final in 2004, not knowing he had problems with his lungs… I mean no one did… it wasn’t a big gesture [to him] but I felt I was able to help him.
“Or taking Steven Bradbury to a hardware store in the middle of the night at the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics to help him fix one of his skating boots a couple of days before competition.
“These little things that the athletes might not ever remember, but for me it was a good thing to do, and those moments stick in your mind.”
After winning gold at the Athens 2004 Olympics, Hackett would reveal he had a collapsed lung which dramatically impacted his breathing, so a golf cart ride rather than a laboured walk to the training pool could have been a godsend.
While Bradbury would days later wear those same homemade and now newly fixed skating boots to win an improbable gold medal in a historic Australian sport moment, but it was another historic moment in Australian sport which Phillips was instrumental in coordinating which resonates the most.
“Being part of an Australian team for at the Sydney 2000 Olympics was a major highlight,” Phillips said.
“It was pretty special to be a part of that experience, and there are highlights from many different Games, but nothing compares to being a part of the team to help athletes perform at a home Games.
“Even being playing a supporting role with the Sydney 2000 organising committee gave me an experience and opportunity to see how the puzzle pieces fit [when it comes to hosting a Games] … experiences that helped with me with the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.”
In 2015, Phillips joined Commonwealth Games Australia as its CEO – a role he holds until the present day.
He served on the Board of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, which oversaw a number of important “firsts” – first time for a major Games to have an equal number of events for men and women, the largest para-sport program of any Commonwealth Games and the first major event to have a Reconciliation Action Plan.
Phillips also implemented the Kurt Fearnley Scholarship, a partnership between CGA and the Carbine Club of NSW named in honour of the Australian sport legend and designed to provide financial support to young Para-sport athletes based in New South Wales ahead of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
These are achievements Phillips cites as some of the proudest moments of his career.
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“It was important to me, that as the host nation for the Commonwealth Games, we were involved in introducing those ‘firsts’ which we hope future Games will follow,” Phillips said.
“It is recognition that the Commonwealth Sport Movement can do these things, which no other peak sporting event has done, the Olympics haven’t done them, the World Cup hasn’t done them, so that part is really important.
“For me what was really satisfying from the Gold Coast Games was how we embraced the integration of Para-sport team members… it is something we have continued with the Kurt Fearnley Scholarship and it is a unique aspect and important part of our story.
“It is something I am focused on as a legacy of the Gold Coast Games and focused on in the lead-up to the Birmingham 2022 Games.”
As the world continues to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Phillips acknowledges the challenges for sport are unlike any has ever encountered in his career but is prepared to call upon a lifetime of experience and the same passion and vigour to make sure Australian team members have their best day when it counts.
“Birmingham has its own unique set of challenges… challenges I have never faced before in my working career,” Phillips said.
“But I am doing all I can to help our Chef de Mission Petria Thomas and the executive team in overcoming some of these challenges and sharing my knowledge and experiences with the Commonwealth Games Federation and the Birmingham organising committee.
“I think Birmingham will also take some of those developments of the Gold Coast to another level, which is really important.
“[For CGA] we set ourselves the task of being the number one nation in the Commonwealth.
“We don’t retreat from that aim and doing that on someone else’s patch, especially our primary rival the English, will be a challenge.
“But a challenge I can’t wait to take on.”
While his passion for sport may have been ignited decades ago, for Craig Phillips AM it continues to burn just as strong today.