With Fame Comes Power for Global Sports Stars


July 11, 2009

Global Soccer

With Fame Comes Power for Global Sports Stars (excerpt)


LONDON — The sporting superstar has reached a level of global recognition beyond any film star.

“There is no movie star in the world who could get thousands of people to wait six hours just to see their arrival, as Cristiano Ronaldo did this week,” said David Puttnam, filmmaker turned law maker in the British House of Lords.

Puttnam, who over 30 years produced award-winning films, including “Chariots of Fire,” “The Killing Fields,” “Bugsy Malone,” and “Memphis Belle,” is certain that Tom Cruise could not hope to draw 80,000 to a movie theater the way Ronaldo did to his signing ceremony at Real Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium last Monday.

“I have watched the dynamic of the superstar shift from film to sports,” Puttnam added. “The whole level of globalization of sports is bigger. The key is engagement. The power of sport has taken the movie industry by surprise.”

We were speaking at the Beyond Sport summit meeting in London where Puttnam — now Lord Puttnam, legislator and ambassador for Unicef — joined people from government offices to ground workers in some of the world’s most violent crime spots to discuss the power of sports.

Fame need not be frivolous. Puttnam, 68, has witnessed the emergence of celebrity added to charitable causes, from Danny Kaye, the American actor, singer and dancer of the 1950s, to the David Beckham phenomenon today.

He shared a panel at Beyond Sport with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now working on reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. Beside them was Prince Faisal Al Hussein, adviser to Jordan’s armed forces as well as the founder of Generations for Peace, which attempts to use sport to unite youth.

And besides them was Dikembe Mutombo, a former N.B.A. star now using his stature back home in the Democratic Republic of Congo to construct hospitals and research centers in his hometown of Kinshasa. Mutombo went to the United States on a scholarship hoping to become a doctor. He returned to Africa as more than a doctor, using fame and fortune, to try to turn the tide of H.I.V.