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Laureus Sport for Good was established in 2000, but its genesis goes back much further, to New York City, in fact, in the 1970s.
South African Johann Rupert, now Chairman of Richemont, Founding Patron of Laureus, was working there at the time and was a close friend of a black New York Yankees baseball star.
The ballplayer was constantly approached for autographs and Rupert noticed that he took extra care giving signed posters to white children. When asked why he showed this favouritism, he replied: “If a white kid has my poster in his bedroom, he can hardly discriminate against the black kid in his class”.
That most simple of truths created a potent seed in Rupert’s mind which germinated over many years.
Another significant milestone came in 1995 when the fledgling rainbow nation of South Africa won the Rugby World Cup, a triumph which united people of all races and demonstrated yet again the power of sport to bring communities together.
As a result, Rupert proposed that Richemont help to create an organisation that came to be named Laureus, based on the principle that sport can bridge the gaps in society and change the way people look at the world. In 1998 Richemont teamed up with German automotive giant Daimler to get the project off the ground.
Two years later the first Laureus World Sports Awards took place and the initial 24 members of the Laureus World Sports Academy gathered in Monaco for a seminal meeting on the eve of the Awards Ceremony, attended by President Nelson Mandela, at Rupert’s motivation.
President Mandela told the Academy Members, which included many of sport’s greatest living legends, under the chairmanship of Edwin Moses, that they were held in the highest respect around the world and that they had the unique power to become an inspiration to young people, to change society for the better and to bridge gaps between communities.
The reaction was positive and unanimous and the Academy Members expressed their commitment to Laureus and agreed that all future profits from the Awards would go to underpin the work of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
The following day President Mandela delivered an electrifying speech in public at the first Laureus World Sports Awards Ceremony, a speech which has now become the driving force behind the work of Laureus and the whole Sport for Good movement. He said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
Thus was born Laureus Sport for Good its initial work focusing on helping young people overcome challenging social issues including poverty, homelessness, war, violence, drug abuse, discrimination and AIDS.
Within six months Laureus was supporting its very first project, the Mathare Youth Sports Association, based in one of the largest and poorest slums in Nairobi. Disease was widespread and AIDS was a serious problem. The project had pioneered the use of football as a tool to encourage co-operation and raise self-esteem in the young people of the community. Over 14,000 youngsters play in over 90 football leagues, where success is measured not just by the goals scored in matches, but by the work the young people do in cleaning up the slums. Young people who have been involved in MYSA since the beginning, have become role models and youth leaders in their community.
The growth of Laureus Sport for Good has been remarkable. By its 15th year, it was supporting more than 150 projects in 35 countries which have helped to improve the lives of millions of young children.
The Laureus World Sports Awards too has grown and flourished and has become the premier global sports Awards honouring the greatest sportsmen and women across all sports each year. Attended by international figures from sport, entertainment and business, it is a focal point of the sporting year and showcases the work of Laureus Sport for Good to a global audience.