What do you say when the world is watching?
Holding that statuette on stage in Paris, as a five-time world champion, I wanted to speak to the girls and young women in that kind of situation right now, back home. Speaking to young girls around the world, especially those at my Pocket Rocket Foundation, I said: “There are no barriers to your passion and your calling, as time honours your greatness.” I hope they saw me, and I hope they were listening.
By the end of the evening, I realised that I was not alone. All of the athletes in that room shared, in some way, my intention of using this moment to do something more than just talk about their achievement in the sporting arena. Eileen Gu, the great freestyle skier who won the Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year Award, quoted Nelson Mandela during her speech: “Sport has the power to change the world.” It was inspirational to talk to the other athletes – both past and present – about the challenges we can meet in the wider world.
So, on Nelson Mandela Day, what would have been Laureus’ founding patron’s 105th birthday, I want to add my voice and support to the great man’s mission from the first Laureus World Sports Awards in 2000. The date is special for me, too. This time last year, I was celebrating my fifth world 100m title, in Eugene, Oregon, after becoming the first athlete to achieve that feat in a track event. Earning that small piece of history changed things for me – and I’m not only talking about finally winning my Laureus! It helped me to think more about how what we do on the track intersects with what we do away from it.
We are all competitors, but when we compete we should show respect for our sport – for the rules, for our opponents and for the people who cheer us on. Sport is in our hearts, and we should show the world that it is fun and inclusive. Sport has a unique power to speak to young people, and its message should always be a positive one.
We must acknowledge and embrace the platform we have as athletes in the digital age – this is a power and a responsibility that is new to our generation. If we see a need for change in our sport or our society, we should speak out. And we must also enact that change ourselves – by using our profile and our platform to engage with the issues closest to our hearts.
Today, we have the power to change the world in a way that the champions who came before us did not. If we recognise this opportunity and act together, then our achievements as sportswomen and men will only be the beginning of our legacies.