x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Spotlight switches to the Oscars of sport

Federer, Bolt and Messi top the cast list as a who's who of international athletes descend on the capital for the blue-ribbon event.

Usain Bolt is the man to beat at Emirates Palace for the Sportsman of the Year award.
Usain Bolt is the man to beat at Emirates Palace for the Sportsman of the Year award.

Hollywood rolled up its red carpet yesterday after the Oscars party and now it is Abu Dhabi's turn to provide the glitz and glamour for the sporting world's version of the Academy Awards. The capital will host the star-studded Laureus World Sports Awards for the first time, with the event attracting a host of stellar names from yesteryear as well as an impressive list of nominees for the various honours.

Over the next two days the Emirates Palace hotel will be a haven for sporting connoisseurs as heroes and heroines from past and present eras strut their stuff. The blue riband Laureus Sportsman of the Year title has been the preserve of Roger Federer, the world's finest tennis player, for much of this decade. It would be no surprise if the Swiss maestro, after another magnificent season, is crowned again after seeing a run of five triumphant years ended in 2009 by the fastest man on the planet, Usain Bolt.

Bolt, who deposed Federer on the strength of a brilliant Beijing Olympics showing, enjoyed an equally dominant campaign last year and will be well-fancied to take the plaudits tomorrow night. To do so, the Jamaican sprinter will not only have to get the judges' nod over Federer, who endorsed his claims by capturing three of the four grand slams in the last 12 months, he will also have to overcome the challenges of his fellow athlete Kenenise Bikele, the Ethiopian distance runner, the world's best footballer Lionel Messi, Tour de France winner Alberto Contador and motor cycling legend Valentino Rossi.

A Messi victory would complete a remarkable Abu Dhabi double for the brilliant Argentine who orchestrated Barcelona's success in the Club World Cup at the Zayed Sports City in December. Previous voting patterns, however, suggest that is unlikely because all the recipients of the top award have been individual performers rather than team players. Serena Williams is seeking her second sportswoman of the year award, having topped the poll in 2003, but continued success on the tennis courts of the world was tarnished by her shocking foul-mouthed tirade at the US Open - an outburst which surely makes her an unlikely winner.

The uncompromising American, who won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2009, has two runners, two swimmers and a skier accompanying her on the short list. Shelly-Ann Fraser, world and Olympic sprint queen, will be hoping that she and Bolt can make it a Jamaican double act on the victory podium but her compatriot Sanya Richards, leading performer over 400metres for the past five years, has similar aspirations.

Britta Steffen's reputation as the fastest woman in the pool makes the German a strong candidate but the breaking of the four-minute barrier for 400metres gives Italy's Federica Pellegrini similar hope of success. The winter sports challenge comes from Lindsey Vonn, the downhill racer whose credentials are endorsed by her becoming the most successful American skier in history. She could well be first through the gate in a wide-open contest.

Barcelona look nailed on for the team award, having completed a remarkable 2009 by capturing their sixth trophy of the year with a nail-biting extra-time verdict over Estudiantes in the Club World Cup final here. South Africa, the rugby union world champions, and Brawn GP, who won the Formula One drivers' and constructors' title at the first attempt, will have designs on denying Pep Guardiola's men another accolade. The Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, the New York Yankees baseball team and the German women's footballers, who recently won the European Championship for the fifth successive time are also in the running.

There are four other categories to be decided at tomorrow evening's awards ceremony. Kim Clijsters and Lance Armstrong figure prominently in the "comeback" section while Jenson Button, Juan Martin Del Potro and Tom Daly are principal contenders for breakthrough of the year honours. Gongs for achievements with a disability and in "action" sports are also on offer at what promises to be another landmark night in Abu Dhabi's history of hosting major sporting occasions.