Academy's awards starry, starry night for freeloaders

May 16, 2005

CATHERINE ZETA-JONES swept into the toilet on sport's biggest awards night, her dark hair and black lace dress flying. "I have to pee," she declared to no-one in particular, especially not the 20-odd women waiting in line in front of her.

Zeta-Jones charged to the top of the queue and disappeared into the next available loo. The 20 similarly dressed, but not so famous, women were too stunned to object to such blatant queue jumping.

Film stars show up at the annual Laureus world sports awards and charity dinner, on this occasion in Monte Carlo, for the same reason that sports and music stars appear at the Oscars: because they're invited.

Zeta-Jones and husband Michael Douglas were the guests of honour but if Australia's sole Laureus Academy member Dawn Fraser gets her way, this year's star guest Teri Hatcher from TV soap Desperate Housewives, Hollywood host Morgan Freeman and regular Kylie Minogue may have to pay their own way if they want to sit next to the world's greatest sporting stars.

Fraser believes the academy wastes too much money glamorising what is already the biggest sports awards in the world, which this year are being held in Estoril, Portugal early tomorrow (AEST).

"We shouldn't be paying to put on an event that is like the Oscars," Fraser argues.

"We shouldn't have to pay for guests like Catherine Zeta-Jones. They add to the glamour but they are multi-millionaires in their own right.

"They should be paying $1000 a ticket and the money going to our Sport for Good Foundation. If they knew it was a good cause maybe they would pay. It is a gamble the academy has to take."

Laureus chairman Edwin Moses, the Olympic and world 400m hurdle champion, is clearly not a gambling man. He applauds the mix of 1000 sporting, Hollywood and music celebrities who attend the awards.

"People from all walks of life go to the Oscars and it works well for us, too," Moses said from Estoril.

"People who have achieved excellence in their field lend credibility to our event.

"Our main objective is we make sure the message of sporting excellence is maintained."

Sporting excellence is rewarded with a Laureus, which comes from the Latin name for the laurel placed around athletes' heads at the ancient Olympics.

The academy, made up of 40 sporting heavyweights including Bobby Charlton, Pele, Nadia Comaneci and Michael Jordan, vote for athletes competing across all sports and continents in seven categories: sportsman, sportswoman, team, newcomer, comeback, disability and alternative.

Shane Warne is Australia's sole nomination this year in the comeback category. But because of the controversy over his drug ban, Australia's run of winning a Laureus at the previous five awards – 2000 Louise Sauvage, 2001 Cathy Freeman and wheelchair sailor Vinnie Lauwers, 2002 Australian cricket team, 2003 Michael Milton and 2004 Layne Beachley – may come to an end.

The fact that Warne has chosen not to attend does not bode well for his chances either. His brother and manager Jason said Warne had to play cricket for Hampshire in Cardiff the next day and it was too hard to get back.

A no-show often means no-go. Fraser revealed that Ian Thorpe was the favourite to win the top male award in 2002 but because he didn't accept the free business-class ticket to stay and play, the gong went to Michael Schumacher instead.

Beachley, the 2004 alternative sportsperson winner, deeply regrets being unable to attend the awards to collect her Laureus due to a world title surfing competition in Tahiti. She rates attending the 2002 awards, with its heady mix of sporting and Hollywood glamour, as one of the most memorable of her life.

She went to the after-party at Jimmy's nightclub – Monte Carlo's most famous and expensive dance venue – where she met model Rachel Hunter.

"We bumped into Prince Albert of Monaco and his best friend and they bought us some champagne," Beachley recalls.

"When I left at 4am there was this line of brand new Mercedes to take us home. I felt like a rock star. I have never been treated so well in my life.

"I never thought surfing could take me into that environment. It was the most prestigious accolade I have ever been awarded.

"It elevated me to a new level. Who would have thought women's surfing would win something like that."

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