Two decades of Laureus has benefited thousands of people through sport

The Yuwa Football team from India won the Laureus Sport for Good Award.
The Yuwa Football team from India won the Laureus Sport for Good Award.
Image: LaureusSport/Twitter

The 20th staging of the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco on Monday will celebrate the achievements of the finest athletes in the world‚ but more importantly‚ it honours sports’ capacity to change lives.

Renowned athletes such as Novak Djokovic‚ Luka Modric‚ Simone Biles‚ Angie Kerber and many others‚ are nominees for the main events at the glittering ceremony on Monday.

But the real work of the Laureus organisation is done far away from the Monaco’s gilded streets‚ in 160 programmes in 40 countries where some of society’s most vulnerable people benefit for their ‘Sport for Good’ foundation.

“Nelson Mandela said back in 2000‚ that sport has the power to change the world and we firmly believe in that‚” said Laureus Academy member Sean Fitzpatrick.

The Laureus Awards were the brainchild of South African businessman Johann Rupert‚ but instead of just being an ‘Oscars’ of sport‚ the plan was for the organisation to make a lasting difference to lives.

Those might have been lofty ideals but in the 20 years since the first awards Laureus‚ which has 28 programmes in South Africa alone‚ has achieved its objectives.

And it continues to grow. “Johann and other businessmen discussed the idea of the awards not only being an event in themselves but also a platform for good‚’ founding Academy member Morné du Plessis said.

“It was in the late 1990s and we were all around a table trying to thrash out a way of making this idea a reality but there wasn’t 100% consensus.

“Johann then said‚ ‘there is somebody here that might help us make a decision.’ One of his colleagues then opened the boardroom door and in walked Madiba.

“Well‚ that was game over. Madiba was so wonderful with people and he used his charm and ability to convince people to be better that it was a good idea. “He told them that they could use their fame to make a difference.

“Obviously the Awards ceremony is important to the concept because it's the focal point‚ but it’s sometimes difficult to reconcile the flash of the evening on the red carpet with the actual work Laureus does.”

Rupert‚ who now only had the idea but also funded the organisation initially‚ is proud that 20 years on it continues to thrive.

“I had a prominent black friend in the USA‚ who was a top sportsman and I noticed that he always took special care to sign autographs for white kids‚”

Rupert told TimesLIVE. “I asked him why. He said‚ ‘if a white kid has my poster with a signature on his wall in his room‚ he can’t hate black kids at school.

“When I came back from the USA‚ I realised that in SA we didn’t really have rock star heroes‚ but we did have sports heroes.

“I asked President Mandela to help sell the concept of a multi-sport awards to promote reconciliation through sport. He got behind the project.

“The Sport for Good part of the organisation‚ where sports heroes give their time and use their influence to develop projects using sport to improve lives and unite people‚ is our most important achievement.

“I’m very proud of how it has grown in 20 years and to me the ‘Sport for Good’ aspect of the organisation is the what I’m most proud of‚ and what the future of Laureus is all about.”

On Sunday‚ the YUWA Football project in India‚ which empowers girls in that community to overcome violence and choose their own future‚ was chosen as the Laureus Sport for Good winner.

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