THE FIRST humanitarian sports-based project Laureus supported back in 2000 was the Mathare Youth Sports Association, based in one of the largest and poorest slums in Nairobi, Kenya.
With disease widespread and Aids a serious problem, the project pioneered the use of football as a tool to encourage co-operation and raise self-esteem in the young people of the community. Thousands of youngsters now play in leagues, where success is measured not just by the goals scored in matches, but by the work the young people do in cleaning up the slums.
From that small start, Laureus has grown to the point where there are now 91 such projects around the world, including five in London, which mainly focus on combating juvenile crime, gang culture and the lack of education.
One such project is Track Academy in Willesden, north London, set up by former British triple-jump star Connie Henry.
The area surrounding Willesden Sports Centre is one of the most socially deprived in the city with low levels of educational achievement. Track Academy helps to combat anti-social behaviour by using sport as the means to interest young people and bring them into a positive environment with inspirational role models and educational support.
The project combines a track training programme with a mentor and study plan which helps participants to overcome barriers in their life, identifying issues behind anti-social behaviour and non-attendance at school and advising on careers and further education opportunities.
Laureus Academy Member and Olympic track legend Michael Johnson said: “Track Academy does a very important job in this neighbourhood. When you talk to the young people you realise what a difference sport can make to their hopes and dreams of a better future.”