World's biggest names grace the red carpet at Yas Marina before lavish ceremony at the Emirates Palace hotel this evening.
Laureus sports awards bring out the stars
ABU DHABI // The cameras are ready and the celebrities are in town for one of the world's biggest sporting awards ceremonies, the Laureus World Sports Awards.
The American actor Morgan Freeman, England's World Cup winning footballer Sir Bobby Charlton and the German tennis champion Boris Becker posed on the red carpet last night before making their way to the Yas Marina and Yacht Club, where a welcoming party was held.
Other guests included Kelly Holmes, the British double Olympic champion; Franky Fredricks, the Namibian Olympic sprinter; Gianfranco Zola, the former Chelsea and Italy footballer; and Mark Spitz, the retired American swimmer who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The stars will come together for a lavish ceremony at the Emirates Palace hotel this evening, when the winners of the Cartier-designed Laureus statuettes will be announced.
They will be awarded for world sportsman and sportswoman of the year; world team; breakthrough; comeback of the year; world sportsman of the year with a disability; and world action sportsperson.
Security at the ceremony, which will be hosted by the double Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey and shown live in 100 countries, will be tight, but the public should still have a chance to see some of the stars.
Giacomo Agostini, the Italian motorcyclist, said there was more to the awards than just a glitzy ceremony. "The Laureus takes all the ex-champions from all over the world because together we can do something to help the poor people who don't have anything," he said.
Proceeds will got to the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which supports almost 80 community sports projects around the world.
"We have a lot and I got a career that I dreamt of," said the motorbike champion. "We try to show these people how to get ahead in sport.
"The foundation is growing and with it is the number of members. If we are alone, we do nothing."
Mr Agostini was one of Laureus's 10 founding members in 2000. Now it has 46. "It's the union that makes the power," Mr Agostini said.
Mark Spitz said: "We now have 80-odd projects around the world and embrace more than 400,000 kids' programmes. Go back about four or five years, we were about half the size."
At 12.30pm today, football stars will play in a seven-a-side tournament at the hotel, giving fans a chance to get up close to some of the biggest names to take to the pitch.
Sir Bobby Charlton and Franz Beckenbauer will be on the sidelines, cheering on legends such as the French defender Marcel Desailly and Edgar Davids of the Netherlands.
Other players will include the defender Thomas Berthold, who played 62 times for Germany, Ronald de Boer, who played 67 times for the Netherlands, and Fernando Couto, who won 110 caps for Portugal. They will line up alongside Steve McManaman, who as well as playing 274 times for Liverpool and 94 times for Real Madrid won 37 caps for England.
The nominees for world sportsman of the year include the current Formula 1 champion, Sebastian Vettel. He won the title - the youngest driver to do so - at Yas Marina Circuit in November.
The twice F1 champion Mika Hakkinen said he would not be surprised if Vettel won tonight.
"He did the best possible job and I know what it takes and the pressure the drivers are going through.
"It's unbelievably hard psychologically and he's 23. I remember when I was 23 in F1 - there was so much to learn, so much to go through to be able to achieve your goal and he did it. It was fantastic."
Vettel is up against stiff competition, though: the Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, the LA Lakers' Kobe Bryant, the Barcelona footballers Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, and the tennis player Rafael Nadal.
The Irish singer Ronan Keating, is due to perform at the event.
* with additional reporting by Ola Salem