As entrance requirements go, those necessary to become a member of the World Sports Academy might be the most stringent anywhere. Yet rather than act like an exclusive, high-brow gathering, this assemblage does its best to recognize global excellence among the elite of sports while lending a humble hand to those in need.
The academy’s success in making a difference is an indication of the power of sport. Although the Laureus Sports Awards provide the glitter, the org’s other arm — the Sport for Good Foundation — makes a significant humanitarian impact.
It is an unprecedented one-two punch that forms the mission statement of the World Sports Academy.
“We have two functions,” explains two-time Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses, chairman of the 39-organization. “We vote for the seven categories for the awards that we give out in our ceremony in Monaco. And No. 2, we make decisions based on our Sport for Good Foundation. We determine what projects we will get involved with in order to bring about social change. That’s the basic thesis for the foundation.”
Becoming a member involves a bit more than just an application and an interview. The members have achieved worldwide recognition in their respective sports and represent a staggering level of accomplishment. The roster includes basketball’s Michael Jordan, golf’s Jack Nicklaus, skiing’s Alberto Tomba, judo’s Yasuhiro Yamashita, soccer’s Pele and Michel Platini, motor racing’s Niki Lauda and figure skating’s Katarina Witt.
“We all do charitable work on an individual basis,” Moses says of the members. “But there’s only so much you can do on your own. Joining forces with 38 other people, plus our corporate sponsors such as Daimler-Chrysler and Richemont and Deutsche Bank, we can make a big difference. We’re lucky enough to have sponsors who will let us spend their money the way we see fit. Usually, it doesn’t happen that way.”
Journalists do not appoint new members to the academy; neither do fans.
“We’re the only world organization in which the athletes themselves determine who we feel is the best,” Moses says. “One of the things that makes us unique is that, when we have meetings, everyone leaves their egos at the door.”
The ranks of the org are growing in tiny increments. That is by design. The organization wants to be able to solidify its mission and maximize the potential of its current projects before it undertakes any serious expansion of its membership.
All of the members are in agreement on one basic premise: Sport is a unifying force that can change lives.
“Sport is clean and even-based,” Nicklaus says. “It’s a platform to express yourself. It’s competitive, it’s fun. Sport describes what life is all about. Sport to me is a guideline for what is good in the world. It’s the best of what we have.”