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. For further information please contact:
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NOTES TO EDITORS
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.