Laureus Sport for Good derives its name from the Latin word for laurel, a crown made of branches and leaves worn by ancient Olympians as a symbol of victory. The name speaks to the history of the annual Laureus World Sports Awards for sporting excellence, which served as the genesis of this nonprofit.
In the late 1990s, South African Johann Rupert, chairman of Richemont, envisioned an event to celebrate the best in global sport. He was inspired by how sports had helped unify a racially divided South Africa just emerging from Apartheid. Collaborating with German automaker Daimler, he presented the inaugural Laureus World Sport Awards in Monaco in 2000, spotlighting some of the world’s greatest athletes.
Rupert invited his friend Nelson Mandela to Monaco for those first awards. Mandela gave a speech that would become the driving force behind Laureus and the entire Sport for Good movement. In it, 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.”
Inspired by Mandela’s declaration, the Laureus Academy Members adopted the mission of Laureus Sport for Good. Its initial work focused on helping young people overcome challenging social issues including poverty, homelessness, war, violence, drug abuse, discrimination and AIDS. Since its founding, Laureus sports-related community projects have been working to educate children and bring people from divided communities together.
“The organizations we fund are direct service providers to youth,” Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, who assumed the role of CEO in February 2016. “We use sports to achieve positive outcomes in education, employment, health and wellness, and social cohesion of youth.”
Fitzgerald Mosley experienced firsthand the positive impact sports can have on a person’s life. “At the very basic level, I learned confidence from sports, even the exploration part of sports,” she says. “I tried softball and gymnastics and was not good at those, but the sheer act of trying and being part of a team taught me to step out and try new things and give it my best. I learned that you can’t find your passion without some trial and error. Trying other sports also helped me build a physical foundation for when I did transition to track and field. I went from being a shy insecure girl to being much more confident.
“At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, I won an Olympic Gold Medal in the 500m hurdles,” she continues. “I was the first African-American woman to take home gold in that event and continued to advance the Olympic movement throughout my life.”
Prior to assuming her CEO role at Laureus USA, Fitzgerald Mosley was the Chief of Organizational Excellence for the US Olympic Committee, leading the USA Track & Field’s 2012 Olympic team to 29 medals in London, its best performance in 20 years.
“I call my gold medal the gift that keeps on giving, and winning was just the tip of the iceberg,” she says. “Every piece of my life—my husband, children, friends, job, vocation and avocation—are all tied up in winning the gold medal.”
Fitzgerald Mosley is determined to help as many youth as possible achieve positive outcomes in their lives. She explains: “Laureus USA has enabled sports organizations to work together in New Orleans for the past two years. Instead of competing for funding and participants, these organizations are now sharing resources and building best practices, which have grown from serving 10,000 youth to impacting 50,000 youth in the New Orleans community. They also are developing into a model that Laureus USA will be able to scale to cities nationwide. We aim to build collaborations like this across the country, bringing together program leaders to share experiences and resources. We know this is the future of the Sport for Good movement and a process that benefits all of the leaders involved. Ultimately, it will enable more youth to benefit from quality sport for development programs that are focused entirely on making them healthier, happier people.”
Laureus USA recently kicked off Sport for Good Atlanta, a long-term commitment to strengthening local youth through the power of sport. Mercedes-Benz USA, which recently moved their headquarters to Atlanta, is supporting this mission to bring together nonprofit organizations and increase their impact on young people through collaboration.
As Dietmar Exler, President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, said, “We know from past experience with Laureus in other cities across the U.S. that participation in sports can have a very positive impact on children, specifically their academic success. Sports can also provide a unifying force that strengthens local communities. As a member of the Atlanta community, we’re looking forward to our partnership with Laureus USA. It will enable us to harness sports to help open future pathways of success for the children of the west side.”
Since 2012, Laureus USA has impacted 480,000 youth in the United States. The Laureus foundations globally have reached over 1.5 million youth since its inception in 2002.
Laureus’ work would not be possible without the support of generous donors, including J. and Arthur Agresta of Benzel- Busch, who have been long-time supporters of Laureus. Benzel-Busch has supported Sport for Good since 2013 and J. has been recently appointed to its Board of Directors. It was 2013 when the organization first funded the training of football coaches as youth mentors in Englewood, NJ. The coaches were trained through Laureus’ partner program, Up2Us Sports. Together, Laureus and Up2Us Sports have trained more than 3,300 coaches in 82 cities across the coun to their youth participants, driving them to set goals and make better decisions. Training teaches the coaches how to operate as leaders, maintaining a positive culture at practice while remaining sensitive to any trauma their participants may have experienced.
In addition to the important work that goes on throughout the year around the globe, the annual Laureus World Sports Awards honor on a global stage the world’s greatest athletes who have been nominated by the Laureus Academy members. This year’s grand gala took place in February in Monaco, birthplace of the first annual awards in 2000. Hosted by Hugh Grant, it recognized athletes such as Simone Biles and Michael Phelps from the United States, who received awards.
The Laureus Academy Members are an exclusive group of 60 living sporting legends under the chairmanship of rugby legend Sean Fitzpatrick. Academy members share a belief in the power of sport to break down barriers, bring people together and improve the lives of young people around the world. They are passionate about volunteering their time to support the work of Sport for Good. They also vote to decide the winners of the Laureus World Sport Awards.
“It was also inspiring to see the first-ever Olympic Refugee Team, led by Tegla Loroupe, win the Laureus Award for Sporting Inspiration,” says Fitzgerald Mosley. “They represented millions of refugees who are currently without a home. It’s great to see the Olympic stage used to highlight an important issue that our world must face. Sport does have the power to change the world.”