Why Mandela’s mantra matters even more in the Covid era

By Edwin Moses, Chair, Laureus Sport for Good
It sometimes feels like just yesterday that I stood next to Nelson Mandela as he declared that “sport has the power to change the world” and gave Laureus Sport for Good our founding belief.
It sometimes feels just as recent that I visited MYSA, the first programme we ever funded, in the Mathare Valley in Nairobi.
The idea that both were 20 years ago shows how time can pass by as if we are standing still.
Since Laureus was founded in 2000, we have helped more than six million children and young people, providing the strongest possible evidence of the unique power of sport to change lives whether they have been affected by gang violence, natural disasters or war.
We currently support more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries as they seek to use sport to end violence, discrimination and disadvantage, and we are doing so as a proud contributor to the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, as we play our role in changing the world by 2030 – and beyond.
In 2019 alone, Laureus Sport for Good supported 341,027 children and young people, and it’s important to remember that each of them has their own unique story and their own special role in our family.
Almost half of those participants (49%) were girls and young women, showcasing our commitment to advancing the rights of girls and women and empowering them as champions of their own lives and leaders in their communities.
As an organisation founded under the patronage of one of the greatest anti-racism campaigners, we at Laureus stand firmly against racism and are proud to support programmes that use sport to end discrimination in communities around the world.
And that’s been underlined by the challenging developments of 2020 that have led to such a devastating impact on sport at both an elite and a grassroots level.
Some of the impact of which we are most proud – from reducing isolation and improving mental health, to providing young people with a safe place to play and learn – has been more challenging than ever in a time of social distancing.
Almost all of us have faced challenges as a result of the pandemic, but for the world's most vulnerable young people those challenges have been exacerbated.
It is vitally important that sport gets the support it desperately needs so that young people can benefit from increased fitness, self-discipline, teamwork and the guidance of positive role models through targeted and innovative programming and strong, committed relationships.
Grassroots sport relies upon funding, be that from charities or from the income that drips down from elite sport, which of course relies upon broadcasting and spectators in stadia for its main funding.
With fans mostly restricted from attending high level sport, the threat to lower level and grassroots sport is at a critical point.
I was not surprised to see sports leaders in the United Kingdom write to the central government underlining the existential threat sport faces unless there is state support – and over here in the United States we have seen a great number of sports struggle as a consequence of the lockdown and the inevitable postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Sport, remember, also contributes so much to global economies as well as providing the benefits of health and wellbeing that we are all so passionate about.
The UN said earlier this year that the global value of the sports industry is estimated at US$756 billion annually.
However, with matchday revenues and sponsorship income declining due to COVID-19, there are concerns that many sports clubs at the heart of their communities will be forced into submission.
At times of difficulty, sport plays a critical role in bringing people together and providing a sense of optimism away from the toils and stresses of everyday life.
Now is the time for federations, national governing bodies and competition organisers to work together to find a solution that ensures we don’t lose a generation of sports fans.
While athletes must be protected and their welfare remains paramount, even the return of live sport to our screens has provided a welcome boost to society.
Research has shown that COVID-19 carries greater risk for individuals that are overweight or obese and once again underlines the importance of children and young people being provided with the necessary tools to live active and healthy lives.
The current situation shows that there is much work still to be done – and so many more young people who need our help.
Sport needs to come together to help communities to get through these challenges and emerge stronger than ever.
I believe President Mandela would be proud of what we have achieved – and it is part of his legacy that Laureus intends to remain at the forefront of the great role sport can play in helping young people around the world.
To read more about how Laureus has helped young people across the world.

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