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What Are the Laureus World Sports Awards?

by Scott Kacsmar
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Laureus World Sports Awards

The Laureus World Sports Awards honor individual men and women, as well as teams, for achievement in sports around the world from the previous calendar year. It was founded in 1999 and is an annual ceremony that has been held in over a dozen countries and broadcast around the world to more than 160 countries. 

What’s the meaning behind the name? What are the award categories? How are the winners chosen? Can you bet on them at the top sportsbooks? We answer all of these questions and more as we look at the history of the Laureus World Sports Awards.

The Origins of the Laureus World Sports Awards

The Laureus World Sports Awards is essentially the Oscars for the world of sports. It was created in 1999 by Daimler and Richemont, a couple of founding sponsors of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. It has also been supported by luxury companies Mercedes-Benz, IWC Schaffhausen and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group.

The award show supports the work of Laureus Sport for Good, which has over 200 programs in more than 40 countries to promote the value of sport for underprivileged youth. It was inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela at the first ceremony in 2000:

“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. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair.”

– Nelson Mandela, 2000

They use “Laureus” as derived from the Greek word for laurel, which is a recognition of honor and achievement, which is often associated with sports. Winners at the event receive a Laureus statuette, which is created by French luxury designer Cartier.

Where Are the Laureus World Sports Awards Held?

The annual ceremony has been held in a variety of countries over the years. The inaugural ceremony where Nelson Mandela was the keynote speaker in 2000 was held at the Sporting Club in Monaco. The next 3 events were also held in Monaco at the Grimaldi Forum.

Other locations for the award show include:

  • Lisbon, Portugal (2004)
  • Estoril, Portugal (2005)
  • Barcelona, Spain (2006-07)
  • Saint Petersburg, Russia (2008)
  • Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (2010-11)
  • London, United Kingdom (2012)
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2013)
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2014)
  • Shanghai, China (2015)
  • Berlin, Germany (2016, 2020)
  • Monaco (2000-03, 2017-19)
  • Seville, Spain (2021-22, virtual ceremony during COVID)
  • Paris, France (2023)

The 2024 ceremony will be held in Madrid, Spain for the first time.

What Are the Award Categories at the Laureus World Sports Awards?

There are 8 main awards handed out at the Laureus World Sports Awards:

  • Sportsman of the Year
  • Sportswoman of the Year
  • Team of the Year
  • Breakthrough of the Year
  • Comeback of the Year
  • Action Sportsperson of the Year
  • Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability
  • Laureus Sporting Moment

There are also awards given out at the discretion of the Academy.

For example, the Lifetime Achievement Award is often given out to a legend in sports. Some of the past winners include Pelé (2000), Zinedine Zidane (2011), Dirk Nowitzki (2020), Billie Jean King (2021) and Tom Brady (2022).

Other discretionary awards not always given out each year include:

  • Laureus Sport for Good Award
  • Spirit of Sport
  • Exceptional Achievement
  • Sporting Inspiration
  • Athlete Advocate
  • Sporting Icon Award
  • Sport for Good Society

The Selection Process for the Laureus World Sports Awards

The winners are selected by a panel known as the Laureus World Sports Academy, which is comprised of 68 retired sportspeople who volunteer for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. They vote by secret ballot to pick the winners each year.

For the 8 main awards, the Academy decides 6 of them. The nominees for Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability are selected by the International Paralympic Committee. The Sporting Moment of the Year is the only category that is purely a vote by the public and fans.

Notable Award Winners and History

Tennis great Roger Federer is the most honored athlete in the history of the Laureus World Sports Awards. He won Sportsman of the Year 5 times, including a 4-year run in 2005-08. He also won a 6th award when he was named Comeback of the Year in 2018 when he won his 5th Sportsman of the Year award.

This has definitely been a great century for dominance by tennis players as the most prolific female is Serena Williams, who won Sportswoman of the Year 4 times and Comeback of the Year once for a total of 5 awards.

The only other athletes to approach the success of Federer and Williams have been Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and tennis rival Novak Djokovic. They both won Sportsman of the Year 4 times each.

While tennis players have dominated the men’s awards, footballer/soccer star Lionel Messi became the first person in his sport to win Sportsman of the Year despite playing in a team sport. He did it again in 2023.

There has been more diversity in sport on the female side as gymnast Simone Biles has won Sportswoman of the Year 3 times, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva won it twice and other single-time winners include ski racer Lindsey Vonn, Ethiopian long-distance runner Genzebe Dibaba, Swedish golfer Annika Sorenstam and Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

There have been some awards that were rescinded after discovery of cheating. Cyclist Lance Armstrong and track athlete Marion Jones both had their wins vacated after finding out they used performance-enhancing drugs.

Open to sports all around the world, the Team of the Year award has largely gone to football and rugby teams in Europe. The only team to win Team of the Year from one of North America’s main leagues was the Chicago Cubs in 2017 after they won the World Series the previous year.

For Breakthrough of the Year, the only players to win from NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL teams were Yao Ming on the Houston Rockets (2003) and Patrick Mahomes on the Kansas City Chiefs (2021).

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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