Le Coeur du Sport - the Heart of Sport

The 2023 Laureus World Sports Awards in Paris revealed the true heart of sport on a night of high emotion in the company of the world’s greatest athletes
Under a Parisian sky, the stars came out. A constellation of sporting greats – current and past – lit up the 2023 Laureus World Sports Awards. It was an unforgettable and emotional evening, and one in which Lionel Messi made yet more history: the greatest footballer in the world is now the only athlete to win both the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year and Team of the Year Awards in the same year.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is not only the five-time world champion over 100m and one of the greatest sprinters we have seen, she is the 2023 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year. Also honoured were Eileen Gu, whose freestyle skiing has made her a truly global sensation; Christian Eriksen for a comeback that transcended football and sport; Catherine Debrunner, who started the year as a sprinter and finished it as a marathon champion; and Carlos Alcaraz, the kid who would be king of men’s tennis.
The biggest show in sport had been a virtual event for the past two years. In the French capital, which will welcome the Rugby World Cup and then the Olympics in the next year, the world’s greatest athletes reminded us of the true nature of the Laureus World Sports Awards: a congregation and celebration of our best sportswomen and men – and of the power sport has to change the world.
This was a night when the heart was worn on the sleeve. From Argentine rugby legend Hugo Porta’s moving tribute to Messi as he presented him with the Laureus Sportsman of the Year Award, to David Ginola folding into an embrace with Laureus World Comeback of the Year winner Christian Eriksen – one footballing great supporting another. Then, the unique joy of a Laureus Awards tradition: the ‘Greatest Selfie in Sport’, as the winners and presenters of the Awards closed the night on stage together. The greatest sportswomen and men of the past year, alongside some of the greatest of all time – including Members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, the team of champions behind these Awards, and whose votes make these the most sought-after prizes in sport.
This was a celebration of sport, with purpose at its core. Eileen Gu used her acceptance speech for the Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year to call for the next generation to be the change they want to see in the world. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s rallying cry was to young Jamaican girls to push beyond their limits, just as she has done. Then two of the greatest goalscorers of the past 20 years of football, Robert Lewandowski and Andriy Shevchenko, told the world about the incredible work done by TeamUp, the child refugee programme which was recognised with the Laureus Sport for Good Award.
As the day progressed, crowds gathered in the Place Vendôme to catch a glimpse of their sporting heroes – in tuxedos and evening gowns, not tracksuits and spikes. Paris provided an impeccable backdrop with Napoleon – sitting atop the iconic Vendôme Column – overlooking sport’s modern-day conquerors. Every arriving champion was greeted with lusty cheers. Then Messi arrived. In the city he has called home for the past 21 months, his progress up the red carpet was greeted like a goal at the Stade de France.
As the sportsmen and women waved at the crowd and walked past the cameras of the world’s press, they reached a stunning portrait of Nelson Mandela, next to the words Le Sport a le Pouvior de changer le monde: the first Patron of Laureus, with the words he spoke at the inaugural World Sports Awards, in 2000 – words that would be repeated on stage more than once – ‘sport has the power to change the world’.
Then, hosts Kirsty Gallacher and Antoine de Caunes took to the stage – and the big night we had all been missing was back.
An opening film showed stories of excellence and redemption from the world of sport in 2022 and touched on the retirements of all-time tennis greats Roger Federer and Serena Williams – both past winners on previous nights like this. The loss last year of two sporting legends, Pele and Shane Warne, was marked with moving tributes.
The first Award – for Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year – went to Eileen Gu, who became the youngest gold medallist in the history of freestyle skiing at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. After receiving her Award from Patrice Evra and Bebe Vio, Gu delivered an unforgettable acceptance speech.
She said: “This statuette is so much more than just a beautifully crafted piece of metal. It is a symbol of all the hard work, the beauty, the tears and the pain – but also of the joy – that goes into everything that sports are. Sports are a symbol of the human experience.
"One of the founders of Laureus, Nelson Mandela, said 'sport has the power to unite people’. That's what the world needs more of these days. I want to dedicate this award to all the young people out there because someone has to lead change in this world – why not us? I want to remind people that we are beautiful because of our differences not despite them – and that sport is a very unique avenue for people to connect, learn about one another, build up society, break human limits and develop as a whole.”
After that rallying cry to a new generation, a young athlete with the world at his feet took centre stage. Just 24 hours after successfully defending his Madrid Open title, and days after his 20th birthday, Carlos Alcaraz looked sharp in his tuxedo as he accepted his Award for the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year.
If his memorable 2022 US Open title victory – his first Grand Slam, which also made him the youngest-ever world no.1 – left anyone in any doubt as to the scale of his talent, then back-to-back victories over Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Madrid last year heralded a changing of the guard. In a filmed message before the Award, Djokovic described the young Spaniard simply as “the future of men’s tennis”.
If Alcaraz proved a hard act to follow, then Messi – as is his way – rose to the occasion. Emotional footage of Argentina’s World Cup win in Qatar preceded the arrival of the great man on stage to collect the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award, presented by actor Daniel Brühl. Argentine rugby legend Hugo Porta, a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy, hailed Messi’s achievements with an emotional speech in his native tongue – “When I speak from my heart, I have to do it in Spanish” – before Messi dedicated the Award to his home country.
“I achieved my dream and the dream of the whole country, and it was the best thing that has happened to me and to everybody, as a country, after waiting for so long. So, I would like to share this Award with all of Argentina.”
Like Messi, the winner of the next Award also took a red pen to the history books in 2022. Catherine Debrunner – winner of the Laureus Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award – broke four track world records before transitioning to the marathon, where she won in both Berlin and London in the space of seven days.
Accepting her Award from Laureus World Sports Academy member Edwin Moses, Debrunner said: "This Award has been a childhood dream and it is has come true. I want to thank my coach Arno Mul who has not only made me a better athlete but a better person."
The Laureus Sport for Good Award – the heart of the Laureus World Sports Awards – was presented by Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski, joined via video by Andriy Shevchenko. A powerful film showcased some of the work done by TeamUp, using games based on movement to positively impact children affected by war or conflict. TeamUp is in action all over the world, but Lewandowski and Shevchenko met last year in Warsaw, where Shevchenko had visited the organisation’s base in Lewandowski’s home city, where children who had fled neighbouring Ukraine were being supported.
From that emotional moment, to a vision of the Paris Olympics next year. Breaking will be a new sport at the 2024 Games and a group of competitors took to the stage to perform an athletic routine on an Olympic theme – ending with each taking to a corner of the stage, one fist raised in an echo of the protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Games in Mexico City.
David Ginola suffered a heart attack while playing in a charity football match in 2016, so when the former France, Tottenham and Newcastle winger presented Christian Eriksen with the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award, their connection was real. Eriksen was receiving the Award after he returned to elite football with Brentford, Manchester United and Denmark in 2022, having suffered cardiac arrest during a match at Euro 2020.
“In French, I would say you are my frère de cœur” said Ginola. After a short film documenting his comeback, Eriksen admitted he was feeling “a bit emotional” – and he was not the only one moved by the story.
Two Laureus World Sports Academy Members presented the next Award: Jessica Ennis-Hill and Nawal El Moutawakel, Olympic champions both. Like Ginola, El Moutawakel, the 1984 gold medal winner in the first women’s 400m hurdles final, provided an apt phrase for the moment in French: “Avec un coeur vaillant, rien n’est impossible” – with a brave heart, nothing is impossible. Perfect words to welcome to the stage Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce to accept the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award and receive one of the evening’s strongest ovations.
“I almost cried – and I don’t usually cry,” started the sprinting great, after a film showing her development from childhood track prodigy to the benchmark in longevity and excellence in sprinting. “I was 13 when the Laureus Awards started. Being 13, from Kingston, Jamaica, and poor, looking back now, I realise there is no barrier to your passion and your calling, as time honours your greatness. “I pray that I will be an inspiration to all Jamaican young girls to know that there's no limits when you believe in yourself and continue to work hard and inspire the next generation of young women to know that we are strong, powerful and most importantly we are fearless.”
The final Award was presented by Fabio Capello, a Laureus Ambassador and one of the most successful football managers of the past 40 years, and Carles Puyol, the captain of the iconic Barcelona team of the late 2000s and a World Cup winner with Spain. A fitting guard of honour for a team who realised the dream of a nation in giving Argentina their third World Cup.
Messi returned to the stage, accompanied this time by his teammate for the national team, Lisandro Martínez and the president of the Argentine football association, Claudio Tapia.
At a ceremony which began with remembrance of one No.10, Pele, who some say is the greatest to have played football, another – Messi – collected a second Laureus Statuette, becoming the first athlete to win the Laureus World Team of the Year Award and the Sportsman of the Year Award in the same year.
All that remained was to take the photo that would travel around the world in an instant, capturing a part of what makes the Laureus World Sports Awards the greatest show in sports. Carlos Alcaraz is used to stretching to make seemingly impossible shots, so he was the perfect person to grab the selfie stick.
The result? A photograph you can stare at for an age and notice another champion from today or yesterday, another story to inspire those of tomorrow.

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