x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Laureus Awards prove pain is over for Spain

On an evening of glamour at the Laureus Awards in Abu Dhabi, a nation's pride is celebrated after decades of failure and frustration in Spain.

Rafael Nadal won the Laureus Sportsman of the Year award after his mastery over three different surfaces at the grand slams. Ian Walton / Getty Images
Rafael Nadal won the Laureus Sportsman of the Year award after his mastery over three different surfaces at the grand slams. Ian Walton / Getty Images

On an evening of glamour in Abu Dhabi, a nation's pride is celebrated after decades of failure and frustration

If it can be tricky to wring a history lesson from a red carpet and a flock of frippery and a gaggle of paparazzi, then the Laureus Awards pulled off an instructive little trick last evening at the Emirates Palace hotel.

They showed the extreme sparkle of a country that clambered from a bleak historic period three-and-one-half decades back, the fruits of a long whoosh upward that might even rate a sort of beacon set against recent news events elsewhere.

The choices of Spain's World Cup football team and Rafael Nadal as major winners from among all sports and all nations - plus a spate of other nods to Spain's goldenness - made the awards themselves feel relevant, even if the awards themselves can rate trivial next to the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation's altruistic aims.

They reminded us that, sport-wise in the world, we occupy an era of Spain and Spain and more Spain.

The football team won Team of the Year and appeared on video from Spain with the latest bauble from its precise, becoming exploits last summer in South Africa. Nadal won Sportsman of the Year after a 2010 that included a French Open title on clay and a Wimbledon title on grass and a US Open championship on concrete, a soar of versatility unseen since 1969.

Beyond that lay so much Spanish prowess that you might never run out. One of the Sportsman of the Year nominees, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, surely would not appear on the list but for his tip-top teammate Pau Gasol. A Team of the Year nominee, those NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers, would not have turned up hugging each other on video in the Emirates Palace auditorium, the Boston Celtics fallen, were it not for the Barcelona-raised Gasol.

Alongside Nadal in the male nominees came Andres Iniesta, the scorer of Spain's winning goal in the World Cup final against Holland. There came also Lionel Messi, an Argentine doing his dazzling for a Barcelona club doing unprecedented things. Spain even had a windsurfing nominee in the top-ranked Victor Fernandez.

And then, with the references to Spain bountiful enough, there came another reminder of one of the pioneering forerunners to Spain's glistening 21st century.

In accepting a special award for the European Ryder Cup team, Colin Montgomerie spoke movingly of one Severiano Ballesteros, who swashed-and-buckled out of Spain way back in the 1970s when the country first emerged from dictatorship.

On the stage, Montgomerie, the winning captain at Celtic Manor last year, told of the team's phone call with Ballesteros, who at 53, has spent recent years recovering from a brain tumour. Montgomerie told of the quiet in the room when Ballesteros spoke in that unmistakable voice from his home in Pedrena in northern Spain. He called Ballesteros "the godfather of the European Tour and of the Ryder Cup".

"It was only for one guy that we won this Ryder Cup," Montgomerie told the crowd, "and his name ... is Severiano Ballesteros."

With all this Spain all around us and with a country of 46.5 million so lavishly awarded in the leisure divisions reflective of long-held peace and dignity and effort, it can be easy to forget some old themes that croaked in Spain's rise.

For example, for decades it crystallised into general acceptance that a Spanish man could not win the Wimbledon men's singles titles. Spanish players did not take the grass game so seriously. They would arrive for their first-round losses and their attending cheques.

Now, Nadal not only has won the title for two of the past three years and played in the final for four of the past five, but he has lifted all the boats upward into a statistically improved performance for the whole lot of Spanish players. He has redefined adaptability.

So as a mannerly soul and a delightful addition to any auditorium, room, awards dais, court, interview room or red carpet, Nadal took the stage as a global star and said, "I cannot thank enough the Academy to give me the more prestigious award in the world of sport."

He also made heartfelt mention of Spain's national football team for realising what he called "a dream for our country," one that blotted out another bygone theme.

That one held that Spain's team forever would crack and fizzle at World Cups, a reputation hardened across 76 years of never reaching even a true semi-final. Yet even after losing their lidlifter in South Africa and loosing all manner of hand-wringing, even after coming across a surging Germany and a cynical Dutch in that first-ever semi-final and final, that team still prevailed.

Of course it did. It is from Spain.

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae