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Matt Slater | 09:13 UK time, Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Abu Dhabi

I've just flirted with Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic (not sure she noticed), quizzed actor Morgan Freeman on the rules of rugby (he hasn't a clue) and watched actor Kevin Spacey do a surprisingly funny version of Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" (even former Australian cricketer Steve Waugh laughed).

This is not a typical sports news gig. Nobody has gone bust, failed a drugs test or had their lottery funding taken away from them. And there are far too many sequins. This is show time at the Laureus World Sports Awards and I am the scruffiest individual on the red carpet.

To be honest, the last time I did something like this I managed to insult a nation by suggesting the 2006 Ryder Cup's opening ceremony was a bit, well, overblown. I would I like to apologise to Ireland for that outrageous slur, the K Club classic was a local dignitary with a ribbon and a pair of scissors compared to "sport's Oscars" in Abu Dhabi.

Not that I'm criticising. These awards are the wrap party for another spectacular year of using sport to change lives around the globe. It's easy to be cynical and sarcastic about famous people congratulating themselves but what nobody can deny is the sheer amount of good these guys do when they put their heads together.

Rafael Nadal and Kevin Spacey

Did you ever think you'd see Rafael Nadal take on actor Kevin Spacey at ping pong? Photo: Getty

Sixteen years ago, a few sports fans, who happen to hold senior positions at posh carmaker Daimler and luxury brands giant Richemont, were watching the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa and wondering what other type of person could achieve the nation-building heroics Nelson Mandela and the Springboks team were pulling off in front of them.

They correctly decided Mandela is a bit of a one-off as a politician so they started thinking of ways they could persuade sports stars to break down entrenched divides in society, bring hope to the hopeless and inspire children to better themselves - or at least stop eating crisps and turn the television off for an hour.

It took them a few more years to get their idea up and running but the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation has been dishing out big cheques to community projects from Canning Town to Cape Town for over a decade - and the awards ceremony that helps bring those cheques in has got bigger and bigger and bigger. So big, in fact, only a hotel like Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace could hold it now.

This place was built for the Emir, apparently, but he kept getting lost in the east wing so he gave it to "his people", the kind of people who want a gold bar dispenser where a cash machine would normally suffice.

Sorry, I'm being cynical again. This night deserves better than that and you cannot fault Abu Dhabi for its ambition. Lovely weather, too. Which brings me to some of the fringe benefits of getting an invite to this gig.

I've watched heavyweight boxer Wladimir Klitschko hook an eight-iron 200 yards at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club (it's on one of the new islands that Abu Dhabi's cab drivers haven't heard of yet), seen Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola play one more time and listened attentively as a sun-kissed Sir Bobby Charlton explained just why football is still the greatest game in the world, never mind what some of them earn. I missed 10-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater sand-boarding but it's been a pretty good couple of days so let's not be greedy.

As for the awards ceremony, the show was surprisingly (I'm a cynic, remember) entertaining, singer Ronan Keating left nothing in the tank with a heartrending performance of "When You Say Nothing At All" and the prizes all went to very worthy winners.

Martin Kaymer's USPGA win and claim to being probably the best golfer in the world right now trumped Louis Oosthuizen's stunning victory at St Andrews in the 'Breakthrough of the Year' award, while it is difficult to really argue with Spain getting the 'Team of the Year' award for adding the World Cup to their 2008 European crown. As for Valentino Rossi, the Italian's total disregard for pain made him a slightly insane winner of the 'Comeback of the Year' gong.

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My long-lost cousin Kelly won a third Laureus award in the 'Action Sportsperson of the Year' section and then told me he had surfed with 100s of sharks and hardly any of them have tried to bite him. Europe's Ryder Cup team received the 'Spirit of Sport' prize, Verena Bentele got a well deserved nod in the disabled category and American Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn slid smokingly to the 'Sportswoman of the Year' prize.

Her partner in the champions dance at the after-show party on the beach would have been Rafa Nadal but the fact she looked like she was somewhere cold in her video-linked acceptance speech (above) suggested she was not here. Dubai's Snowdome, perhaps.

That's a shame because Nadal, named 'Sportsman of the Year' is so ridiculously nice in person it is almost impossible to equate him with those blacksmith's biceps and brawler's refusal to give in. Even Colin Montgomerie admitted he was excited about sitting near the sublime Spaniard.

The evening's only other business was to make awesome oarsman Sir Steve Redgrave and Aussie motorbike hard nut Mick Doohan the 47th and 48th members of the Laureus Academy, a very select band of brothers and sisters.

Oh, and they gave Zinedine Zidane a lifetime achievement award for doing things with a football in almost every game he played that the rest of us would struggle to manage just once. Either that or it was for his stellar efforts in helping to bring the World Cup to the region in 2022.

Aggghhhh, stop with the cynicism. He's a legend, Spacey's a legend and the supermodel presenter from Germany stood next to me on the red carpet is definitely a legend. Well done, Laureus. It was one helluva show. Can I come back next year?

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about at http://twitter.com/bbc_matt

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    First poster! Yay! Just wanted to say congrats to Nadal! Well deserved!

  • Comment number 2.

    Also wanted to say sorry to roomie JL (you know why!)

    Funny how so many tennis players have won this award in recent years (or at least Nadal and Federer)

  • Comment number 3.

    Zinedine Zidane a lifetime achievement award for doing things with a football in almost every game he played that the rest of us would struggle to manage just once. Either that or it was for his stellar efforts in helping to bring the World Cup to the region in 2022.

    He was professional and paid to be ambassador of Qatar. England had Prince William, David Beckham and David Cameron. Much bigger line-up than Qatar. What about Russians? Just come over it. We Brits always find it difficult to accept reality. Focus on Football and think about winning those two World Cups that will be a better way to demonstrate your anger/joy.

  • Comment number 4.

    Interesting blog! I do have one issue - in the caption beneath the photo of Nadal and Spacey, you refer to the sport they are playing as 'ping pong'. As a former North Yorkshire Under 16 'Table Tennis' champion, I would appreciate the correct notation. Together, Matt, we can eradicate the prejudice that still exists today in regards to the definition and understanding of this beautiful sport. Thank you.

  • Comment number 5.

    Not a bad gig! Must beat being sat in the High Court waiting to see what's going to happen to Portsmouth FC.

    Must admit, that although I knew about the awards, I didn't know much about the Foundation behind them. Sounds like a noble idea, hope it can continue to spread its magic

  • Comment number 6.

    Sorry Matt (not your fault) but why are the BBC sending you to this when spending on grass roots services such as 606 are about to be cut.

    BBC I don't care about the Superbowl or Laureus awards.

  • Comment number 7.

    It was Graeme McDowell who won the US open. Martin Kaymer won the PGA championship.

  • Comment number 8.

    Come on man, get it right man... Graeme McDowell is the current US OPEN champion, not Martin Kaymer!!!

    Oh, and by the way, here's a list of Graeme's achievement's in 2010

    Celtic Manor Wales Open - June 2010

    US OPEN Pebble Beach - June 2010 (The 1st European winner in 40 years)

    RYDER Cup - Oct 2010 (Held his nerve to hole the winning putt, when all other's around him were losing their's, Kaymer and Westwood included!!)

    Andalucía Valderrama Masters - Nov 2010

    Chevron World Challenge - Dec 2010 (Beat Tiger Woods in a playoff, holing 2 massive putts, the 1st on the 18th to reach the playoff knowing Tiger had a tap in himself and the 2nd at the 1st extra hole, a 30foot putt across the green that swung at least 5feet left to right to leave Tiger shell shocked as he tentatively missed his 12foot putt straight up the green)

    GRAEME 'GMAC' MCDOWELL, probably the best golfer in the world right now!!!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Not surprised that Morgan Freeman knew nothing about the rules of rugby; the game is governed by laws.

  • Comment number 10.

    Would be better if the BBC saved money for more useful matters rather than sending someone to the Middle East who knows nothing about sport it would seem.

    Would like to see a justification of this from BBC but won't hold my breath OR was it paid for by the organisers ?
    We should be told.

  • Comment number 11.

    sending you to this when spending on grass roots services such as 606 are about to be cut.

    ----------

    Yes sending someone to do some journalism at a sporting event is wrong, while keeping a blog which is used by kids to wind each other up is very important.

  • Comment number 12.

    10 - I totally agree. What is the justification for sending someone there? Especially when you seem to have nothing to say whatsoever from a sporting context - it seems you spent the time being star struck! Not interested in spending my license fee money on this Matt, but I don't get a choice.

    11 - the 606 argument is redundant - there is no need to swap one from the other. Get rid of both and spend money on good sports journalism, none of which is present in this article I'm afraid.

    Matt, sorry but it does come accross like was a total waste of money and that you know next to nothing about sport!

    4 - again I agree. It's called table tennis, not ping pong. It's a real sport! Argh!!!

  • Comment number 13.

    Hate to get picky but it is actually the PGA championship and not the USPGA. The PGA championship is organised by the body which represents professional golfers in the USA. This includes club professionals as well as the tour pro's. You may be confusing this with the USGA which is the governing body for golf in the USA. The USGA organise the US open and not the PGA championship.

  • Comment number 14.

    "Kelly won a third Laureus award in the 'Action Sportsperson of the Year' section"

    Odd title for an award. Is there any sport that doesn't involve action?

  • Comment number 15.

    Matt,
    How does the BBC justify the expense of your trip and socialising, all the better to litter the golfing content of your article with factual inaccuracies, when they say you can't afford 606?
    A clear sign your (BBC's) priorities are upside down.

  • Comment number 16.

    Re the Ping Pong/Table Tennis argument:

    Surely, as the word of Boris Johnson is indisputable, its Wiff Waff?

  • Comment number 17.

    Matt,
    Would you inform your crack golf staff that Martin Laird finished 3rd at yesterday's conclusion of the Phoenix Open. Terrific achievement and surely worthy of at least a footnote on your Golf page? Where will people get their Golf coverage when 606 disappears?

  • Comment number 18.

    VAMOS - there are some people out there who are not WUM's and do use the forum constructively to highlight sporting issues and news that the BBC forgets in their Premier league and F1 obsession.

    Monkeyphoenix we agree to disagree and I would like some quality journalism on a wide range of sports that we can comment on freely.

  • Comment number 19.

    Dear BBC,

    It's a disgrace, how dare you report on an organisation that use the celebrity of international sporting heroes to raise money for the disadvantaged children of the world. Like my fellow readers above, I am disgusted.

    By reporting events like this you are simply promoting their agenda for good - I am appalled. Surely it is clear from comments above that we are for more concerned with the antics of our modestly paid footballers as they endeavour to inflate the egos of their international sugar daddies and save up for a new supercar - that's what's important after all.

    Anyone who suggests our indignation is born out jealousy as we stand on the chilly terraces of England rather than attend an internationally important sports based event could not be further from the truth!

    Hurrumph

  • Comment number 20.

    They call it Laureus Sports Award, but I have hardly ever seen a cricketer being feted with individual awards at this global stage. Last I remember is the Team of the Year award given to Steve Waugh's Australian cricket team.

    I would like to know is there any specific bias towards cricket.

  • Comment number 21.

    #19: Chris Doggart,
    Good point, but the BBC is inconsistent. They have comprehensively failed to acknowledge the Phoenix Open, one of the most charitable events on the PGA Tour, despite the success of (BBC Blogger) Martin Laird in finishing 3rd.
    The only place on the BBC website where this coverage exists is 606. Is Golf to be excluded entirely from BBC sports coverage when 606 is killed off?

  • Comment number 22.

    sorry Mclaren MP4 you arecompletely and absolutely wrong. Keymer won ( as Matt stated) the USPGA title.

    Mc Dowell the US open. there is of course the European BMW PGA tournament but it is not a major. In fact many countries have a PGA tournament none of which are official european tour events so to say Keymer won the PGA title is not correct , you need to differentiate it from all the other PGA tournaments by saying USPGA.

  • Comment number 23.

    Thanks to diggler2146 and others, we have now amended the copy. Martin Kaymer is indeed the USPGA not US Open champion.
    Many thanks for pointing this out

  • Comment number 24.

    I actually saw you at it, I was a few feet away in the photographers' box. Not particularly overwhelmed by the whole thing either. The intentions are good but somehow it felt lacking in class. Bigger and more gold does not equal better.

  • Comment number 25.

    I agree with the posts on the BBC spending choices. What is the BBC going to do about the accuracy of sports reporting when 606 goes? I've lost count of the number of basic factual errors made by the "tennis" journalists whose lack of knowledge betrays a lack of interest.

  • Comment number 26.

    Chris Doggart while the objectives and activities of this foundation ARE worthy.

    I'm not sure they're worthy of this coverage when numerous UK sports charities are crying out for this sort of attention from the BBC as they lose funding and grants.

  • Comment number 27.

    Hate to be pedantic, but for the purposes of clarification, Martin Kaymer won the "Annual Championship of The Professional Golfer's Association of AMERICA".... Nowhere is it known as the USPGA, so let's be clear about that.
    Congatulations to Nadal by the way, well deserved.... And who cares whether it's called Wiff-Waff, Ping-Pong or whatever... It's not a real sport!!

  • Comment number 28.

    Have to agree with Comment No 4. Table tennis is not called ping pong. It annoys me when people call it ping pong as it would be like a sky sports commentator calling football soccer.

  • Comment number 29.

    Forget the naysayers and their griping. As the best journalist on the site, I am glad you got this gig. Hope you had a good time.

    Especially as your next gig is probably Russians interested in Portsmouth.

  • Comment number 30.

    Re: #27 bigal

    Nowhere is it known "Annual Championship of The Professional Golfer's Association of AMERICA." It's PGA Championship or USPGA to differntiate between other events called 'the PGA.'

  • Comment number 31.

    Evening all, I would normally try to respond individually to as many of you as possible but given the fact that I've just got back from three exhausting days in Abu Dhabi I'll make a few general points before going to bed.

    1. I'm surprised I made only one mistake. This blog was written in about the 15th hour of a very long day, on my knees, in the dark, with no notes and limited Internet access. It is, as I think some of you have noticed, a very personal, tongue-in-cheek, first impression of a hectic night at a global event. It is not a considered piece about Laureus's relevance or charitable work, nor is it an assessment of each of the winners. My main disappointment is not that I confused McDowell's US Open win with Kaymer's USPGA, it's that this blog wasn't published 12 hours earlier. But blame Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand for that.

    2. Do you really think we would send somebody to Abu Dhabi to write a blog? Colleagues are losing their jobs and you think it's as simple as 'close 606' or send somebody to a sports awards. Deary me. I could list the 30+ interviews my cameraman and I did over the weekend, the numerous BBC outlets that ran them, the radio/TV/online stories we generated and are still being picked up around the world and the contacts we made that will help with future stories but you're right, what are we thinking spending money on that? Ridiculous.

    But hey ho, thanks for reading and sorry if you missed the other stuff. But keep an ear/eye open for all the other good stuff we've brought back. I can't promise it will make up for the difficult decision to end the significant expense of operating a messageboard that was becoming increasingly unpopular but it may at least make you view Laureus's worth as an event worthy of coverage in a slightly better light.

    Oh, and the day we decide it isn't worth going to an event where we can get one-on-one interviews with the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Zinedine Zidane, Rafael Nadal, Patrick Vieira, Colin Montgomerie, Wladimir Klitschko, Steve Waugh etc etc is when you should probably really start to worry about our journalistic priorities.

  • Comment number 32.

    Interesting read....just wondering though, are there no African sportsmen worth at least a mention?

  • Comment number 33.

    Matt,
    The comments about 606 were in the context of BBC golf coverage. Fact is that 606 golf board visits certainly do not reflect that it's "increasingly unpopular".
    Perhaps it would be if Golf received decent coverage on the rest of the site but it doesn't.
    Meanwhile, even with substantially fewer links from BBC golf page articles, 606 golf comments are increasing, not reducing.
    Your inaccuracies regarding golf were taken as symptomatic of the disdain with which BBC On-Line treats golf, no more and no less.
    Hopefully you'll be able to influence an improvement?

  • Comment number 34.

    Re 30 golfpro14
    If you don't believe me that it's known as "The Annual Championship of the Professional Golfers Association of America", then perhaps you should check the wording on the front of the Wannamaker Trophy.... That'll be the big tin pot presented to the winner of what everyone else WRONGLY refers to as the USPGA.

  • Comment number 35.

    Why not post links to all the good stuff you got there Matt? I have to say I share the general finger down throat attitude to celebrity award do's and charity work. As for the 606 messageboards, I thought the football ones were an embarrassment to the BBC and it's right they close. I'm surprised you say they were expensive though, can I ask how much?

  • Comment number 36.

    kwiniaskagolfer - "inaccuracies"? Please stop exaggerating, it weakens your already weak argument. The truth of it is that you always post comments like this, endlessly banging on about the same "shocking lack of golf coverage". You were doing it three years ago when I was golf editor at the website and our golf coverage was unrivalled by any other general sports website, in this country or elsewhere. When will you get it? The BBC website is not, and cannot be, a one-stop shop for all your golf news. It is a general sports website for the typical sports fan, with an obvious bias towards British news. So that means we concentrate our limited resources on the big events in whatever sport that may be.

    Now, as you must surely be aware, the licence fee is being squeezed and we are being asked to look for savings. The most recent round of cuts have taken 17% of the website's budget, which equates to 16 posts, some of which were 606-related. Now I don't have all the figures, as I'm just a reporter who works for a different department anyway, but a 17% cut is significant and tough decisions had to be made. Closing 606 was one of those, as has been described by managers on this site on numerous occasions. I think you just need to move on.

    As for this very dreary discussion about the proper name of the USPGA, it's called 'house style'. Every media organisation has one and ours says we call golf's majors the Masters, US Open, Open and USPGA, and we have done for at least a decade, if not longer.

    ktfoot, no, I'm not providing links to all the work I've done in last 72 hours, partly because I can't give you a link to the Patrick Vieira interview on yesterday's 5 Live Breakfast prog, or the Wlad Klitschko, Mark Spitz, Steve Redgrave stories that ran on the BBC News and BBC World on Sunday, or the Rafa Nadal, Steve McManaman, Steve Waugh and Gianfranco Zola interviews that ran on BBC News/World/World Service yesterday and today, and I certainly can't provide links to the Bobby Charlton, Colin Montgomerie and Sean Fitzpatrick interviews that will run on 5 Live and World Service in the coming days. Like I said, you'll just have to listen or watch out for them.

  • Comment number 37.

    Matt,

    It seems that most people who are critical of the sports site just want accurate journalism - some of your colleagues lack attention to detail. 606 contributors frequently pointed out basic factual errors.

    We know that the BBC needs to make cuts. I don't understand why it doesn't start by sacking Clarkson and the many other very highly paid people with precious little talent (Moyles etc.). Watching the gleeful BBC coverage of the Gray/Keys affair was a little cringeworthy for the hypocrisy on display. Clarkson makes that pair look like apprentices in the art of being offensive.

  • Comment number 38.

    I think the word you were searching for is NO!

  • Comment number 39.

    Re: #34 bigal

    I believe that is the inscription on the Wannamaker Trophy, but what I meant was nobody calls it the "The Annual Championship of the Professional Golfers Association of America" - except you, obviously - they call it the PGA Championship or USPGA. You're also right that it isn't called the USPGA, it's just what people call it to differentiate between other events of the same name. It's the same story with the Open - Americans call it the British Open as they call the US Open the 'Open.' They are wrong to call it that, but you know what they mean.

  • Comment number 40.

    Matt

    I fail to see how making a mistake for decades or more makes it acceptable to continue doing so. Would you call the Open Championship the British Open.

    Would you agree golf is essentially very easy to cover for a general audience. There are two main tours who have an event almost every week. So that is two stories a week that an organisation like the BBC could report accurately. The PGA tour, although not British is very much part of the UK golf scene. Due to the prime time viewing of PGA tour events on sky many players in the UK will watch more PGA tour golf than Euro tour golf. There are also many UK players who play on the PGA tour.

    Why did the BBC report so heavily on the most recent ashes if you follow your logic. It was a sporting event about a sport many in the UK play in a foreign land. Does that sound similar to the PGA tour? Hence you would have thought a mention of your owns bloggers success in such an event may have warranted an opinion.

    You do know you could solve your problem very easily?


    Just pop Kwiniaskagolfers weekly article up on the main page.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 42.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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