“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.”
These, in 2000, were the words of Nelson Mandela, the revolutionary who led South Africa’s liberation from apartheid rule and who served as its first democratically elected president.
These words are the enduring inspiration for Laureus, a global sports-based charity that recently asked us if we could support a virtual sports event to raise awareness and funds.
Our regular virtual events work takes in a wide range of use cases. These include online conferences and virtual sales kick offs, virtual seminars, tradeshows and online company events. Our work with Laureus however, presented a unique challenge that required a customized solution. It had to blend multiple video streams, integrate different technologies, and introduce special guest contributors from around the world. And all whilst running a live virtual sports event.
Using sport to end violence, discrimination, and disadvantage
One of the charity’s core programs is Laureus Sport for Good. It aims to end violence, discrimination and disadvantage for children and young people, using sport as the tool for change. With COVID-19 affecting its ability to run in-person fundraising events, the charity turned to the virtual world instead.
And this is where we – the Cloud Communications division of NTT Ltd. – came into play. Working with Laureus we produced two ‘Sport for Good’ virtual pelotons featuring the charity’s sporting ambassadors. What’s more, sports fans were also invited to join. Not just as viewers, but as active participants in the virtual rides.
An innovative solution
To make it happen, our event producers designed an innovative solution. This combined a ‘feed’ of the virtual cycling from the Zwift virtual cycling platform, with the on-screen host presenter, and a steady flow of special guests, ‘dropping in’ via video calls from different parts of the world.
To accommodate a global audience, and maximise reach, we hosted two separate pelotons: one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. The events took place on 18 July, the day of Nelson Mandela’s birth. This day is now celebrated each year as Mandela Day, a day to focus on how we can all contribute to making the world a better place.
Raising awareness and encouraging donations
Each event lasted 67 minutes, the duration symbolizing the 67 years that Mandela spent fighting for social justice. During each ride, famous sports stars – Laureus Academy Members and Ambassadors – joined the event live and talked to host Dan Nicholl. Many also pedalled in the peloton whilst also discussing the great work the charity is doing. Amongst those taking part, furthering awareness of the cause and encouraging donations were Sean Fitzpatrick, Sir Chris Hoy, Morné du Plessis, Hugo Porta, Daley Thompson, Steve Waugh, Schalk Brits, and Zanele Mdodana.
NTT Pro Cycling, the professional cycling team sponsored by NTT Ltd, also took part. Based in South Africa, they always celebrate Mandela Day. Taking time-out from their participation in the Virtual Tour de France that was also taking place that weekend, several riders joined the event, along with Team Principal and Laureus Ambassador, Douglas Ryder. The event was free to watch and take part in, but donations were encouraged with all funds raised going to support young people impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic through the Sport for Good Response Fund.
Expert planning and technical preparations
Technically it was an unusual challenge, and one that required expert planning and technical preparations. This was all provided by our Digital Events team, our in-house specialist operations team. In their steady hands, both events ran seamlessly. This was no mean feat given the number of connections, feeds, and contributors. The virtual pelotons proved to be a very enjoyable event for viewers, and participants too. Over the two events more than 1000 virtual cyclists took part creating a highly successful fundraising event.
Given that Nelson Mandela was Laureus’ first patron, and instrumental in defining its ethos and values, it was a very special occasion. As a company that believes in using technology for good, that sport has the power to unite us, we were delighted to be involved.