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The Power of Sport in Changing the World

By Guest Author November 7, 2022

By: Sean Fitzpatrick, Chair, Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and Chair, Laureus World Sports Academy; former Captain of the New Zealand All Blacks

Laureus is a global movement whose purpose is to change the world through the power of sport. Our vision is to use this power to end violence, discrimination, and disadvantage for young people and children.

In 2000, our founding patron Nelson Mandela stood on stage at the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards and declared: “Sport has the power to change the world.” These words became the philosophy of Laureus and the driving force behind our work. Being in that room was one of the most impactful moments of my life, and I remember thinking about the important role sport played for me and its incredible potential. 

Twenty-two years later, I’m proud to be captain of the greatest sporting team on earth as Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy and a foundation that brings Mandela’s words to life every day.  Since 2000, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation has used the power of sport to change the lives of over 6.5 million young people and currently supports more than 250 programs in over 50 countries and territories. 

Nelson Mandela on stage giving a speech surrounded by Laureus Academy members Nadia Comaneci, Nawal El Moutawakel and Giacomo Agostini
Nelson Mandela surrounded by Laureus Academy members Nadia Comaneci, Nawal El Moutawakel, and Giacomo Agostini

I’ve been fortunate to travel around the world and experience the transformational work of the programs we support. In 2005, a visit to Right to Play in Sierra Leone with skateboarding icon Tony Hawk changed my life. It wasn’t long after their civil war, and the program was working with child combatants, using sports to teach new skills. The kids had no idea who Tony or I were, but I took a rugby ball, Tony took a skateboard, and it made them smile. Without the power of sport, they wouldn’t have had an opportunity to dream and be children again.

In 2021, despite the challenges of COVID-19, Laureus positively impacted more than 250,000 young people through its programs and initiatives. Among its successes: 

  • 72,878 children and young people became less socially isolated.
  • 257,374 had access to a safe and inclusive space.
  • 36,333 improved their attendance, engagement, and retention in education.
  • 45,979 accessed opportunities for work experience, internships, training, and employment.

The role sport can play in society is greater than ever. Through Laureus’ Sport for Peace and Humanitarian Action Fund, we’ve partnered with organizations supporting young Ukrainian refugees in Poland, Romania, and elsewhere in Europe. Sport, play, and physical exercise help these children overcome some of the stresses they carry with them.

In the UK and South Africa, we support innovative programs using surfing to increase confidence and reduce anxiety among youth. I’ve also heard inspirational reports of a netball project empowering young girls to tackle the challenges of social media, and in Kenya, a football program that has fundamentally altered how young women and girls are perceived by men and boys in their communities. 

Throughout my rugby career, sport was about trying our best to win each game we played. When I reflect on the work Laureus is doing around the world — I’m reminded that the positive impact sport can have on society is the greatest thing. Seeing that impact over the past two decades has been as satisfying as sport itself. 

Sean Fitzpatrick teaching several children to play rugby  as a child runs holding a rugby ball
Sean Fitzpatrick uses his sport of rugby to help young people overcome discrimination and inequality through Laureus Sport for Good

The Laureus Sport for Good Index, launched in 2021, is our annual listing of the best brands globally using sport to drive social and environmental impact. We wanted to create a standard for best practices and celebrate organizations that are aligned with Laureus’ purpose — leading from the front in using sport for good in society. We hope that by spotlighting these brands and showing how such investments can be successful, we can encourage more corporations to harness sport’s power as a tool for social change. 

Independently judged by a panel of business and social experts against criteria that align with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Index has already become an important benchmark for brands to use sport for good and a celebration of that crucial work. And while we congratulate the 29 brands listed in this year’s Index, we also encourage them and their peers to continue building on this work.

Corporate organizations will play a critical role in attaining the SDGs as we collectively seek to change the world for the better. This is best done through advocacy and encouraging the business world to examine the role sport can play in driving societal change. To set this tone, Laureus published the Sport for Good Playbook, a deep dive into the work of some of the brands named on the Index and how those business leaders have approached the challenge.

The idea of bringing the corporate world together to share insights and best practices sits at the heart of the Index and is why we’re proud to work with an organization like Salesforce to make this happen. For its own part, Salesforce is leading from the front. Through its support of this year’s Index, their partnerships with the Olympics and Formula 1, and their technology, which enables Laureus and over 50,000 other nonprofits around the world to scale their impact, they’ve shown up as a true corporate partner working to improve the state of the world.

Back in 2000, I remember thinking that if Laureus Sport for Good could help improve the life of just one child, our efforts would be worth it. Twenty-two years later, we’ve achieved more than I ever dreamed of — and there’s still more to be done. If your organization is ready to help change the lives of young people through the power of sport, please join us.  

Learn more about the Laureus Sport for Good Index and download the 2022 Index to see the brands making a positive impact through sport. You can also find out more about Salesforce’s partnership with Formula One and the Olympic Games.

About the Author

Sean Fitzpatrick is Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy. He is also Chair of Laureus Sport for Good, the Foundation that uses the power of sport to help young people around the world overcome violence, discrimination, and disadvantage. Widely regarded as one of the greatest rugby players of all time, Sean took part in the inaugural World Cup in 1987 when he enjoyed one of his best-ever rugby moments as the All Blacks went on to win the final in Auckland against France. In total, Sean played in 121 international matches for the All Blacks, including 92 Test matches, 74 of which were wins.