Talking in the build-up to the Laureus World Sports Awards, the three-time winner of the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award believes that people can find it difficult to relate to elite athletes when all they see of their heroes are the seemingly superhuman feats they perform in the sporting arena. However, Biles has observed that when those same athletes opt to use their platforms to discuss issues that are personal to them, that perception can change in an instant.
“Having a platform has given me a lot of opportunities,” Biles told Laureus.com. “And it has given me confidence to speak out for what I believe in. At the very beginning, people were like, ‘Simone, you have to speak out, because people will listen and they will relate’. Because a lot of the time, fans feel like they can’t relate to athletes. They see us doing stuff that is out of the ordinary, that doesn’t seem normal to them, even if it does to us. But when we speak out on certain topics, they have that sense of, ‘Oh, I’m just like them. They’re normal. We can relate to each other’.
“Using my platform has given me that relatability. I think that’s really special, that people can go to my platforms and be like, ‘She is just like us – she struggles with this, she stands up for this’.”
On International Women’s Day, Biles is determined that young women and girls see in her story elements that they may connect with personally.
“I am very active in the foster care community [Biles and her siblings spent time in foster care]. I am very straightforward-speaking about mental health, anxiety, about ADHD [she was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a child], about some things I go through that a lot of people in the world go through, so they can relate, and that is special.
“They [fans] put these athletes on a pedestal, but that is it. There is no relatable content. Now they see elite athletes opening up about mental health, or having kids and coming back to sport, or going through IVF. They are like, ‘they are just like us’.”
Biles won the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award in 2017, 2019 and 2020, and she recalled being taken aback by the occasion of her first win. In 2017, the Awards were presented at a glamorous event in Monaco, hosted by the Hollywood star Hugh Grant. Biles ended the evening posing for Usain Bolt’s selfie, along with fellow winners including Michael Phelps, all recreating Bolt’s trademark ‘To Di World’ celebration pose.
“I remember standing on stage with Usain Bolt and getting that Laureus Award and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I don’t belong here – I only hope to do in my sport what he has done in his sport’.
“Now I am a little more confident on the red carpet, but [in 2017] I did not have red-carpet experience! They get you fitted in whatever you would like to wear, and they brought hair and make-up – it was one of the first times I had hair and make-up done. I was like, ‘this is insane – this is the elite athlete lifestyle that you see other elite athletes having!’ But I was always really intimidated in that presence. Now, I wouldn’t say I feel like I belong, but I definitely know who I am and that a lot of people look up to me. In that shared space I am now more confident.”
Biles has recently finished hosting duties at the sixth edition of the Simone Biles International Invitational, a competition she founded at her training facility in Houston, Texas. Biles made the decision to make her event exclusive to young women, and she feels strongly about the influence she can have on girls starting out in her sport. This three-time winner of the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award believes that sport has the power to change the world. And those values are shared by the wider Laureus movement, and Laureus Sport for Good in particular, which supports grassroots projects all over the world, many of which have as a goal the empowerment of young women and girls faced with discrimination and disadvantage.
“It’s really exciting to instil in that generation that they can do it too – they can train and compete where I train. We decided to make it female-only just to empower those girls. They can come and not worry about anything and just let loose, have fun, come here and compete at the centre. It was really important to do something special just for the girls, for that female empowerment and just to let them have fun.”
This International Women’s Day, Biles is reflecting on the mutual support between her and a fellow Olympian when faced with myopic and discriminatory online abuse, and she is celebrating the opportunity she has to raise up a new generation of girls and young women in the sport in which she has excelled, at the event she founded.