Taking sport the extra mile

The role of sport in creating positive social change has been celebrated at a prestigious award ceremony in London

As part of a summit held from 23-25 July, the 2012 Beyond Sport awards were presented by figures including David Beckham and Jamie Oliver, to individuals who have used sport to promote community cohesion, protect the environment and lessen the impact of conflict.

Launching the awards, David Beckham and Muhammad Ali presented the first ever Generation Ali Beyond Sport award, in celebration of a young person who has used sport to inspire and demonstrate leadership.

The award was given to teenager Matiullah Haidar who is now living in the UK after losing his family during the Afghanistan conflict. He fled the country aged 14 and arrived in the UK without knowing any English. Haidar now coaches aspiring cricketers and teaches English to other refugees through a programme called Cricket 4 Change.

“The refugee cricket project we run helps people forget what they’ve suffered back home,” said Haidar. “Sport brings communities together and changes lives. It doesn’t need a language, it doesn’t need a religion, that’s why it is so important to me.”

Nominees for the awards, spanning nine categories, were chosen from a shortlist of more than 300 entries from 135 countries. The winners were selected by a panel of Beyond Sport ambassadors, which included athletes Kelly Holmes and Michael Johnson.

The awards are a chance to recognise projects supported by the organisation Beyond Sport, which since forming in 2009 has provided more than £2.5m in support to more than 70 organisations worldwide.

The award for Best New Project, which was presented by Tony Blair, went to Goals Haiti, an organisation using sport to engage young people in education and community work.

Mr Blair said: “Sport can make people feel they’re worth something. Millions of kids don’t get that opportunity and providing that has got to be our aim.”

Other prizes included the Sport for Health award, won by WASH United, which uses sporting role models to promote safe drinking water; the Sport for Conflict Resolution award, given to AMANDLA Edu-Football for combating youth violence in the slums of South Africa; and the Sport for the Environment award, which went to NRDC Sports Greening Project, which works to reduce the environmental impact of professional sport.

The final award presented was the Innovation Through Sport award, which was claimed by Skateistan, an NGO in Afghanistan using skateboarding as a tool to empower disadvantaged children.

As well as the awards, panels discussed a variety of issues including how sport can tackle social exclusion and how attitudes can be changed through sport.

Jamie Oliver closed his panel discussion by talking about the potential for sport to inspire the next generation. “Kids look up to sport so much and it has so much potential to do good in our communities,” he said. “Sports institutions have the power to reach so many people.”