x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Sport helps to rebuild societies, one playing field at a time

Laureus now supports 83 community sports projects around the world, which address an array of different problems.

When you taste the exhilaration that comes with sporting competition at the highest level, there really isn't anything to match it. I can still recall every second of the 400 metres hurdles races in Montreal and Los Angeles that led to my two Olympic gold medals.

But sportsmen and sportswomen around the world are finding that they can get a similar buzz by making a contribution in a very different way. In my case it is the work I've done for more than 10 years with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.

For me, as for my fellow Laureus Academy Members, 46 of the greatest living sporting legends, it started as a desire to give something back to society. We all believe that sport can help to resolve problems where more traditional methods may fail.

I recall one visit I made to an area in northern Cambodia with the action hero Jackie Chan a few years ago where widespread use of landmines has had a devastating impact. Jackie has his own foundation and was as keen as I was to do something to help.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 98 per cent of mine casualties are civilian, over 6,000 villages are badly affected and over five million people are at risk. Access to essential resources such as water, roads, bridges and farm land is restricted.

Jackie and I visited landmine removal projects in former Khmer Rouge strongholds. We went to a school and saw students without limbs, simply trying to get on with life. It is not a concept that is easy to come to terms with: knowing that you could be in danger just walking down the street.

I am delighted that Laureus now supports a sports-based landmine risk awareness project in that area. To get the attention of young people, the project holds football coaching sessions. At the end of the session, the coach sits down with the youngsters and shows them pictures of landmines, tells them what to do if they see one, and warns them of dangerous areas where the mines haven't been cleared. Since it's part of a football coaching session, they listen.

Another Laureus Academy Member, the English cricketer Ian Botham, visited Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami to assess what assistance the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation could provide.

The foundation identified a project in the village of Seenigama near Galle, which focuses on cricket, volleyball, football, swimming and badminton. That project helped to bring fun and laughter back to the lives of children who were left with very little else.

With the encouragement of its patrons, Richemont and Daimler, and its global partners, Mercedes-Benz, IWC Schaffhausen and Vodafone, Laureus now supports 83 community sports projects around the world, which address an array of different problems.

In a little over 10 years we have raised more than €40 million (Dh200m) for projects that have helped to improve the lives of more than 1.5 million young people. And the Laureus World Sports Awards play an important part in that. Proceeds from this year's Awards will directly benefit the work of Laureus around the world.

I am sure we will have another magnificent Laureus World Sports Awards in Abu Dhabi this week thanks to the support of our Host Partner Aabar, the Abu Dhabi based investment company. The personal support of the Chairman of Aabar, Khadem Al Qubaisi, in helping us to stage the Awards in Abu Dhabi has been crucial and I thank him.

Among the social evils we have tackled are homelessness, gun and gang violence, discrimination, drug abuse, HIV/Aids and health issues such as obesity. We are not a major relief agency. We can do little initially in the face of natural disasters, but we do believe there is a role for sport in helping to reconstruct a fractured society. We believe we are making a difference. One playing field at a time is progress. If you can change just one child's life for the better, you know it's worth all the effort.

We try to support existing sports projects on the ground with advice and help. We also provide funding and our sports stars volunteer their time to visit the projects, generating local enthusiasm and publicity. We help to train volunteers and coaches which means there is a pool of local expertise that can be used to help the community in the future, or even help to get the youth project on the next city block off the ground. Self-help can often be the most effective way to tackle these problems.

In Monaco at the first Laureus Awards in 2000, President Nelson Mandela said: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair."

In the last 10 years we have taken the words of Nelson Mandela to heart. Laureus has become an athlete-driven organisation using its power and its influence for the betterment of society and as we applaud the winners it is worth remembering how much sport is contributing in other ways to solve some of the problems of our time.

 

Edwin Moses is a double Olympic gold medalist and chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy