Why Kelly Slater and Steph Gilmore will never be crowned as the best of the best.
Once a year Tracks gets a phone call from a Laureas representative asking us to vote in their well-publicised annual World Sports Awards.
The globally televised 2015 Laureus ceremony will be held in Shanghai, China later this year.
The Laureus concept was the brainchild of Johann Rupert, Chairman of luxury goods company, Richemont. With the help of another luxury brand, Daimler, Laureus hosted their first global Sports Awards ceremony in 2000. In the inaugural year, Tiger Woods and Marion Jones (later discredited as a drug cheat) accepted the Cartier designed trophies for Sportsman and Sports-woman of the year respectively. Host, Jeff Bridges, provided the necessary touch of Hollywood to a ceremony dripping in dollars and rightly or wrongly since then it’s become the biggest global sports award ceremony in the world – the Oscars of sports if you like.
While Laureus appears to have the best of intentions and states that its mission is to collectively harness the power of sport to promote social change (and celebrate sporting excellence) there is one major problem with its awards ceremony; surfers are not considered for the two most prestigious awards – Sportsman and Sports woman of the year. A quick scan of the winners over the past decade indicates tennis players, racing car drivers, golfers and runners are the most likely recipients (In fact a tennis player has won the sportsman of the year award six times in the last decade – Zzzzzzz). That’s right, the honour role is full of Federers, Tigers and Williams sisters.
Kelly Slater, arguably one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, has never been considered for the title of Sportsman of the Year. Instead he has had to settle for the slightly less distinguished tag of Laureus ‘Action Sportsman of the Year’. He’s claimed that crown four times but it doesn’t have quite the same resonance as the ‘Sportsman of The Year’ award. You might have thought his tenth world title would have prompted a criteria change for Laureus’ main prize but nope, that year they gave it to Usain Bolt for the second year running if you’ll pardon the pun. It seems ludicrous to think that in the following year when Kelly won his eleventh world title (2011) they gave the Sportsman of the Year award to Rafael Nadal. This year, Gabriel Medina, Brazil’s first ever world surfing champion and the equal youngest title-holder in history won’t even receive a nomination.
Similarly, Layne Beachley (seven world titles) and Stephanie Gilmore (six world titles) have only been acknowledged in the action sportswoman of the year categories.
It’s easy for surfers to be biased about such matters and in any round table debate about the greatest sportsman on the planet who is still competing we are always going to argue in favour of Slater. Seeking an objective gauge on the question, Tracks contacted Graeme Sims, the editor of Inside Sport. As the long-standing editor of the iconic general sports title, Sims has seen enough ball bashers, bolters and fast-car drivers to make a qualified comment about the merits of a particular athlete. When asked about the exclusion of surfing, and Slater, from the main category of the Laureus Sports awards, Sims had the following to say.
“It really is a demeaning distinction that they should abandon if they want the awards to maintain credibility. What is an “action” sport anyway? Are they saying Formula One isn’t an “action” sport? Obviously the separate category was originally created to connect with so-called freestyle/extreme sports that appeal to a more youthful market. Hello! Kelly Slater is 42!”
The main issue here is that Laureus have claimed the space. They have appointed themselves the arbiters of who the greatest sportsmen and sports women in the world are. That’s a noble undertaking but it’s also a serious one.
If the best of the best are not being acknowledged then the cash-splashed awards ceremony with the high profile hosts like Morgan Freeman, Heidi Klum and Kevin Spacey is just a sham. The cynic in me wants to think that the elitist organisers and high-end major sponsors of the event, Mercedes and watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen, would rather see a famous tennis player or golfer gripping the Cartier trophy. Those sports have a certain conservative credibility and obviously equate to more marketing reach for a given product. Perhaps I’m wrong and it’s merely a case of broadening the criteria to include some of the sports now in the action category. I’m sure there are other fans and athletes who feel a similar sense of disenchantment about the Laureus awards. Snowboarding/Skateboarding virtuoso and dual Winter Olympic gold medalist, Sean White, is one who springs to mind.
However, if Laureus doesn’t change the structure of its awards ceremony we can only hope that another wealthy and influential organization establishes a rival event and acknowledges Slater before he retires. Surely if he wins twelve there can be no debate about who really is The Greatest.