The Laureus World Sports Academy has honoured a remarkable woman who is using sport to bring reconciliation to one of the most divided and war-torn cities on Earth.
May El-Khalil was a popular recipient of the Laureus Sport for Good Award, which celebrated her work in creating the Beirut Marathon which has become an inspiration to the whole of Lebanon and has brought people together from opposing political and religious communities.
The story of May El-Khalil is an inspiration for those who believe in the power of sport. She was in hospital in Beirut in 2001 after a near fatal road accident wondering when or if she would be able to walk again, when the idea came to her that she should create a marathon in the heart of a city that had endured so much.
Beirut at that time had suffered considerably as different communities and religious factions fought each other and powerful neighbouring states were using it as a battleground.
Once recovered and out of hospital, following more than 20 operations, as President of the Beirut Marathon Association, in 2003 she launched the first Beirut Marathon, which attracted 6,000 runners and hundreds of volunteers, of a variety of ages, backgrounds and cultures, all forgetting their differences and working together to create a sporting event which made a massive social statement on behalf of the people of Lebanon.
Since then the race has seen tremendous growth, regularly attracting more than 20,000 participants, and it has proved a powerful unifying factor in the country. Despite the most challenging atmosphere, May El-Khalil’s apolitical stance and her reliance on sport as a means to build bridges between divergent and hostile communities has resulted in near universal support for the event.
It has become a turning point in the history of political reconciliation in Lebanon; a triumph of the spirit and an example of sport rising above a hostile political environment.