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Let's go Beyond Sport

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Matt Slater | 12:31 UK time, Wednesday, 8 July 2009

When I told my boss I intended to tweet from Beyond Sport he looked at me as though I'd just told him I wanted to broadcast from beyond the grave.

Having spent the best part of an afternoon trying to set up a Twitter page for myself I wonder if the latter would have been easier. But I got there in the end - I'm still in my 30s, after all.

As I'm sure you're all with-it, web-savvy types I won't have to explain what Twitter is (you're probably already on to the next thing, buying newspapers and writing letters perhaps), but how about Beyond Sport?

In my last blog I quoted London 2012 boss Seb Coe describing sport as the "best hidden social worker". Well, Beyond Sport is a new organisation dedicated to making that happen.

Backed by Barclays, Time and Virgin Atlantic, Beyond Sport's raison d'etre is championing, encouraging and supporting projects that use sport's remarkable ability to improve lives, and it is holding its first big jamboree at a fancy London hotel this week.

Former PM Tony Blair in sporting action

Invited to this gathering are the shortlisted nominees for the first Beyond Sport Awards - 32 projects making a real difference in communities from Argentina to Zambia - and other "sports-led social innovators". Not sure if Tony Blair, Sir Richard Branson, Prince Faisal of Jordan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are in this group but they're coming along as well so Beyond Sport must be doing something right.

The three-day event kicked off on Tuesday with the first two days reserved for visiting projects in the capital, sharing best practice and hobnobbing.

Big Tone, as I might refer to the former prime minister if our plates cross at the buffet, is the chairman of the Beyond Sport Ambassadors - an august body of heavyweights from the worlds of business, entertainment, politics and sport - and is speaking in the first panel session on Thursday, the VIP-heavy conclusion to the event.

The title of that session is "Breaking through barriers - how can sport go Beyond Sport", which sounds a bit like a Chris Morris joke but will probably be much better in person.

I'm looking forward to it anyway, if only to see Blair share a stage with basketball great and famously nice bloke Dikembe "Elbows" Mutombo. The 7ft 2in star used his mighty frame to considerable effect for six NBA teams over 19 seasons, and he only retired three months ago at the age of 42.

His speciality was the emphatically blocked shot - a mighty swot with one of his telescopic arms - usually followed by his trademark "not on my watch" finger wag. By the time he called it a day he had blocked 3,289 shots, second only to the mighty Hakeem Olajuwon on the all-time NBA list.

I had the great fortune to see Mutombo play for his college team Georgetown in the late 1980s and have vivid memories of a group of students who used to sit under the backboard in "rejection row". They waved a big cardboard hand every time he put an opponent's shot in the crowd.

Dikembe Mutombo blocks another shot for the Houston Rockets

Anyway, I'll be talking to him shortly after his turn with Tony and I'll be keen to hear how he combined a stellar sports career with building a £20m, 300-bed hospital in his native Democratic Republic of Congo.

Please post on this blog or tweet if you have any questions you want Mutombo to answer but keep them clean: he's much, much bigger than me.

Aussie swimming great Ian Thorpe is next up and my plan is to get him talking about his Fountain for Youth charity, his views ahead of the 13th Fina World Championships in Rome and his fears/high hopes (it's even stevens as I write this) for Australia's Ashes campaign.

He's followed by Branson, who shares the stage with Tim Shriver, the man who runs the Special Olympics, and Wilfried Lemke, the UN's authority on sports and former Werder Bremen supremo. Not sure how much Sir Richard intends to say about F1 but I'll endeavour, mole-like, to sneak in a question or two.

The day continues in this high-octane vein until the evening, during which time I hope to buttonhole the likes of London 2012/England 2018 insider Sir Keith Mills, former Leeds and South Africa "Chief" Lucas Radebe and track legend Michael Johnson.

I also hope to see Southend United secure their only silverware this season (transfer activity at Roots Hall this summer has been decidedly one-way, which probably explains why Steve Tilson is so worried about having to name seven subs for league games this year) in the "best project by a professional sports team" category.

I suppose I should probably point out at this juncture that Southend's "Goals! Life Skills" programme isn't the only fine example of a community-based sporting outreach project on the shortlist - it's not, they're all excellent - but I can't pretend to be impartial. It's going to be a long season.

And that, along with a pocketful of canapés, should be about that.

My promise to you is that I will attempt to keep my twittering more like Mark Cavendish's ("Is Rooijakkers a:stupid b:crazy c:disrespectful d:all of the above?") than Will Carling's ("I danced so hard and so well @ Take That last night"), and I will try to match the micro-blogging genius of Shaquille O'Neal.

But if I get anywhere near writing something as good as Mike "Mr Streets" Skinner's observations on who makes the best reggae it will be as tweet as a nut.

Here's that link one more time. Follow me, please.


  • Comment number 1.

    NUMBER 1!!! anyways, love your blog always makes me chuckle

  • Comment number 2.

    The question you might want to ask, Mr Slater, to all those genuine idealists at this jamboree, is this:

    'Why is it that those who propound with such coherence about the wonderful nature of free help at the Olympics etc, seem unable to work for the ODA, LOCOG etc for less than £200,000 a year, despite the fact that they are without exception far, far richer than those who they wish to get hours and hours of free time from?'

    Now that's one that'll get Branson talking about F1, isn't it?

  • Comment number 3.

    Ask Ian if he would consider swimming again...

  • Comment number 4.

    Ian's had that question so many times he basically laughed it off when it was put to him three times in the media room. Pretty much the only reason to get him in the pool seriously now would be for Lance Armstrong or Lewis Pugh style for a charity/environmental cause.
    Tony Blair did a good job of showing he has Sarkozy syndrome with his comment about Mutombo making him feel inferior.
    Shame that Branson had more important things to do than show up.

  • Comment number 5.

    Afternoon all, thanks for reading and commenting.

    Beyond Sport was a fascinating event with an A-list cast and lots of interesting people in the audience. My gut feeling today is that it was perhaps a bit too ambitious (Can a conference really change the world's perception of what sport is capable of and sport's understanding of what sport is capable of???) but if you don't try these things you'll get nowhere. I also wonder if the first two days of the conference, which were much humbler and targeted, might have been a lot more productive.

    But what I can say is that I saw and heard some truly inspirational things. I twittered about a few of them
    but intend to blog about a few more, as they deserve a better treatment than I can manage in 140 characters.

    stevepog, you were obviously there too and I agree with your assessment of where Thorpe's at with his swimming - apparently it's a once-a-week thing for him these days and he has to put up with punters trying to race him on every length. On the other hand, I thought his speech about his work with indigenous communities in Oz was incredible.

    See what you mean about Blair and Mutombo but I thought it was a pretty good joke, well, for a politician. In fact, it was a vintage Blair performance. Lots of matey musings about very general issues (sport is good etc) and a few great soundbites. But absolutely no detail or discernable plan of action. Oh well.

    Watching Michael Parkinson and Desmond Tutu chunter away was a rare treat. Not always a fan of Parky's style but it was perfect for a natural wit like Tutu, who is clearly a big sports fan and most definitely a giant human being.


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