‘I WON’T FORGET THE SMILING FACES OF THE CHILDREN’ - REAL HEROES OF SPORT IN THE SPOTLIGHT AHEAD OF OLYMPIC GAMES

  • Laureus focuses on projects around the world changing lives of young people through sport
  • ‘I’m so humbled when they tell me they’re inspired by me because for me it’s the complete opposite, I am the one who’s been empowered’ – says Missy Franklin
  • Discover more at www.laureus.com/realheroes and share Laureus #RealHeroes on social media

LONDON, July 25, 2016 – While the Olympic countdown is on, the Laureus Real Heroes campaign turns to young people and volunteers around the world who prove that sport has the power to unite people and change lives for the better.

From teaching life skills in a tsunami-devastated community in Sri Lanka, fighting youth crime in the most dangerous favelas in Rio to the historic Refugee Olympic Team, the Laureus Real Heroes are inspiring people who never give up in the fight against violence, discrimination and disadvantage. 

On December 26, 2004 a tsunami hit the coast of Sri Lanka causing widespread devastation and loss of life. Led by Kushil Gunasekera, the Foundation of Goodness got straight to work in building confidence and teaching life and leadership skills to the young people impacted by the Tsunami in the village of Seneegma. “By doing this work, I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of kids who have climbed the ladder of success,” says Kushil, who founded the organisation 11 years ago.

Four-time Olympic Champion Missy Franklin took time out of her preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympics to spend with Kushil and the young people at the Foundation of Goodness. She was the first to jump into the 25-meter swimming pool, leading a session with the youngsters with great passion. Missy said: “I come here and I see what people have overcome, I’m so humbled when they tell me they’re inspired by me because for me it’s the complete opposite, I am the one who’s been empowered. I won’t forget the smiling faces of the young children here.” 

Brazilian Formula One legend and Laureus Academy Member Emerson Fittipaldi recalls a memorable visit to the Luta Pela Paz boxing project in Rio’s most notorious favelas: “In a community like Maré where macho behaviour is important for young people, boxing has a built-in appeal.” 

Emerson met and listened to the many stories of the young people from the project who, like Roberto Custodio, have found a new direction and purpose in life. Living with a constant security threat to him and his family, Roberto struggled to come to terms with the murder of his father until he found the sport of boxing at the Laureus-supported Luta Pela Paz project. He said: “Sport teaches you a lot about life. It teaches you to be a man, to be polite, and to respect others. Boxing helped me a lot and now I do everything I can to help the young people that come to me.” 

For Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini sport was also undoubtedly life-saving. She fled her war-torn home country of Syria and swam for her life when the dinghy she was travelling in threatened to capsize while crossing the Mediterranean. In Rio, Yursa will swim for herself, her family and for refugees. “We are born in different countries, we left our homeland and we are now part of a team, that will represent millions of refugees from all over the world,” she said.

She will be part of the Refugee Olympic Team, consisting of ten athletes who will compete for the first time at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Laureus Academy Member Tegla Loroupe will lead the team which aims to convey a message of hope to refugees around the world. 

Ignacio Martin has been working at the Laureus-supported ‘Young Athletes’ project at the Colegio Público de Educación Especial Princesa Sofía for more than eight months. The programme focuses on instilling hope and developing young people with disabilities. Using balls, cones and hoops, kids between the age of two and seven years of age use sport as a tool to improve their physical and sensory capacities, as well as their social integration. “Apart from seeing constant progress in their development, sport and physical activity is something that really helps their well-being. It is amazing,” says Ignacio.

Laureus Ambassador and Manchester United star Juan Mata, also met many of the youngsters and was proud to take part in all the sporting activities. “I’m delighted to have the opportunity to hang out with these little great fighters. The work that Laureus Sport for Good carries out worldwide is amazing and the number of young children’s lives they help improve is inspirational.”  

Discover inspirational stories focusing on the power of sport at www.laureus.com/realheroes.

Since its inception, Laureus Sport for Good has raised over €100 million and supported over 150 projects worldwide which use sport to tackle violence, discrimination and disadvantage.  Laureus Sport for Good has helped to improve the lives of millions of young people in over 35 countries and is proving that sport can change the world.  

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Laureus is a universal movement that celebrates the power of sport to bring people together as a force for good. Laureus is composed of three core elements - the Laureus World Sports Academy, Laureus Sport for Good and the Laureus World Sports Awards - which collectively celebrate sporting excellence and use sport as the means to promote social change. The first Patron of Laureus was Nelson Mandela. At the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards in 2000, he said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” This has become the philosophy of Laureus; the driving force behind its work. The members of the Laureus World Sports Academy are: Giacomo Agostini, Marcus Allen, Franz Beckenbauer, Boris Becker, Ian Botham, Sergey Bubka, Cafu, Bobby Charlton, Sebastian Coe, Nadia Comaneci, Yaping Deng, Marcel Desailly, Kapil Dev, Mick Doohan, David Douillet, Rahul Dravid, Luis Figo, Emerson Fittipaldi, Sean Fitzpatrick (Chairman), Dawn Fraser, Cathy Freeman, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Mika Häkkinen, Tony Hawk, Maria Höfl-Riesch, Mike Horn, Miguel Indurain, Michael Johnson, Kip Keino, Franz Klammer, Tegla Loroupe, Dan Marino, Yao Ming, Edwin Moses, Nawal El Moutawakel, Li Na, Robby Naish, Ilie Nastase, Martina Navratilova, Alexey Nemov, Jack Nicklaus, Brian O’Driscoll, Alessandro Del Piero, Gary Player, Morné du Plessis, Hugo Porta, Carles Puyol, Raúl, Steve Redgrave, Vivian Richards, Monica Seles, Mark Spitz, Sachin Tendulkar, Daley Thompson, Alberto Tomba, Steve Waugh, Katarina Witt, Li Xiaopeng and Yang Yang. The Laureus Academy Members volunteer their services as global ambassadors for Laureus Sport for Good, which was set up to promote the use of sport as a tool for social change. Laureus Sport for Good addresses social challenges through a worldwide programme of sports related community development initiatives. Since its inception, Laureus has raised over €100 million for projects which have helped to improve the lives of millions of young people. The mission of Laureus Sport for Good is to use sport as a means to combat some of the toughest social challenges facing young people today such as violence and crime, discrimination, unemployment, lack of education and health threats including HIV/AIDS and obesity. The Laureus World Sports Awards is the premier global sports awards honouring the greatest sportsmen and women across all sports each year. The winners are selected by the ultimate sports jury – 60 members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, the living legends of sport honouring the great athletes of today. The Awards are presented at an annual Awards Ceremony, attended by global figures from sport and entertainment, which is broadcast to 160 countries and territories. The Awards continue to support Laureus Sport for Good by showcasing the incredible work it does with athletes and partners to transform the lives of individuals and promoting to a global audience the power of sport as a development tool to combat challenging social issues. Laureus was founded by its Patrons Richemont and Daimler and is supported by its Global Partners Mercedes-Benz and IWC Schaffhausen. Mercedes-BenzMercedes-Benz is the inventor of the automobile – and has been passionately shaping its future since 1886. As pioneers in automotive engineering, it is both our inspiration and responsibility to continue the tradition of the brand with trailblazing technologies and high-quality products. Like no other trademark in the automotive world, Mercedes-Benz appeals to both the hearts and minds of its customers. We give our very best for customers who expect the very best. Since the founding fathers Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz, our corporate history has been one of innovation and pioneering achievements. Many technical innovations that are nowadays standard in automobiles first entered the market in a Mercedes-Benz. This is the basis for our claim to leadership in automotive engineering. The brand stands for Modern Luxury, and enjoys an outstanding reputation for quality, safety, comfort, design and comprehensive, sustainable mobility. IWC SchaffhausenWith a clear focus on technology and development, the Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen has been producing timepieces of lasting value since 1868. The company has gained an international reputation based on a passion for innovative solutions and technical ingenuity. One of the world’s leading brands in the luxury watch segment, IWC crafts masterpieces of haute horlogerie at their finest, combining supreme precision with exclusive design. As an ecologically and socially responsible company, IWC is committed to sustainable production, supports institutions around the globe in their work with children and young people and maintains partnerships with organisations dedicated to climate and environmental protection.

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