Beyond Sport Summit concludes, enjoys boost from Games

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair addresses the Beyond Sport Summit
The Beyond Sport Summit concluded Wednesday in London, bringing an end to the three-day, social responsibility conference that drew more than 1,000 people.

Event attendance increased more than 60 percent from the inaugural summit in 2009, which drew 600 people, and the event exceeded organizers’ expectation for press coverage, largely because of the appearance of Muhammad Ali and David Beckham on Tuesday night to present the inaugural Generation Ali Beyond Sport Award. The award recognizes a young person for service, leadership and community action.

“A few months back we had that discussion, ‘Do you host it the week before the Games?’” said Nick Keller, founder of Beyond Sport, which aims to improve society through sport. “Everyone said we were crazy because we’d get swallowed by everything else. But that was offset by two things: Our narrative is so poignant around the Olympics, and people are in town and could do two events at once.”

Keller said being in London, where the organization was founded, helped it pull in a business audience that it already knew.

When the organization decided to run the event the week before the Olympics, Keller said it worried about transport issues and high costs, but neither of those were a problem this week. Transportation ran smoothly for attendees, and the event was able to get sponsorship support from Barclay’s, Time magazine, UNICEF and others.

Generation Ali Beyond Sport Award winner Matiullah Haidar (left), with Muhammad Ali and David Beckham.
The Generation Ali Beyond Sport Award was created this year to recognize a young person who has had a journey that transcended sport to uplift people, Keller said. This year’s winner, Matiullah Haidar, is a 19-year-old Afghan who lost his family during the war and came to the U.K. as a refugee and now coaches cricket. He provided what Keller believed was the most important message of the conference.

“He said, ‘Sport does not need a language. It does not need a religion,’” Keller said. “It came out on his own accord, something he worked out having traveled from Afghanistan to London: having lost his family and becoming a cricket coach and not speaking a word of English when he arrived and now being a translator for refugees.”

Keller is a former rugby player turned agent. In 2000, he created Benchmark Sport, which ran the Sports Industry Awards. He founded Beyond Sport in 2005 and extended it worldwide in 2008.

On Thursday, he’s set to carry the Olympic flame in London.

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