Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge praised SportsAid for ensuring 'there is a strong pipeline of inspirational heroes' as she addressed guests at the charity's 40th Anniversary Gala Dinner yesterday evening (9 June).
The Duchess, who has been the Patron of SportsAid since 2013, said 'the brilliance of SportsAid is in really understanding just how much athletic competition gives to our country as a whole' as she met the charity's alumni, current athletes and partners at Kensington Palace.
She spent time talking to the alumni, including those hoping to represent Team GB and Paralympics GB in Rio this summer, and currently supported athletes in the gardens at Kensington Palace before delivering her speech and joining guests for dinner in the King’s Gallery.
Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge's speech
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. It is an absolute pleasure to be here with you to celebrate SportsAid's 40th anniversary.
"Some of you may know that I love sport. I love cheering on teams and athletes that I am passionate about. I love the physical challenge sport presents and the mental strength it gives us all. And I love the way it so often brings people together to work as part of a team.
"I suspect many of you in this room may feel the same. The brilliance of SportsAid is in really understanding just how much athletic competition gives to our country as a whole. By investing in young sporting talent, they ensure that there is a strong pipeline of inspirational heroes.
"These athletes then serve as motivators to everyone in the UK to get involved, get active, and embrace the power of sport to make us happier and healthier.
"With little over 50 days to go until the Games begin in Rio; the next Olympiad is almost here. As we did in London in 2012, we will see a new generation of sporting stars emerge into the spotlight.
"We cannot wait to meet the next SportsAid champions – the next Chris Hoys and Katherine Graingers who will remind us all of the magic and the power of sport.
"So thank you all for supporting the incredible work of SportsAid. I am immensely proud to be their Patron and I can't wait to cheer on our team competing in Rio.
"I do hope you enjoy tonight’s very special occasion. Thank you."
Accompanied by SportsAid chief executive Tim Lawler, The Duchess met alumni Tanni Grey-Thompson, Sharron Davies, Christine Ohuruogu, Sally Brown, Hollie Arnold and Laviai Nielsen, and current recipients boxer Chantelle Reid, wheelchair basketball player Christy Gregan and 400m runner Lina Nielsen (TASS award).
"I told The Duchess how much SportsAid has helped me with my funding, physio and nutrition,” said Chantelle – one of the first SportsAid athletes to receive a Backing the Best award with Sport England. "I get around £5,000 a year and I really hope to make it for Tokyo 2020.”
The Duchess also spoke to long-term partners of the charity such as Jennie Price of Sport England, and had the opportunity to watch current SportsAid athletes including Chantelle and Christy in action as she saw live boxing, wheelchair basketball, judo, fencing and archery demonstrations.
Chris Baillieu, chairman of SportsAid and one of the earliest recipients of the charity’s support, told guests he counted himself as ‘extremely privileged at being one of the first to be helped’ as he went on to win a silver medal at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games.
“I enjoyed many privileges in upbringing and opportunity but it was SportsAid who actually brought that to fruition,” said former rower Chris, whose Olympic medal came in the double sculls with Michael Hart, just months after receiving his first SportsAid Award.
Chris continued: “If they [SportsAid] had not been there to help meet my training costs, our ability to train abroad, take time off work and help pay towards the expenses of our coaches, we would never have succeeded at the top level.”
Tim has been joined by The Duchess at four previous SportsAid engagements - the first being the 2013 SportsBall followed by athlete workshops at the Copper Box and the GSK Human Performance Lab in London, and at SSE Home Nation House during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
"As well as being a very special occasion for SportsAid, last night was also a key moment in the Patronage of The Duchess," said Tim. "Now in its fourth year, it was evident how strong The Duchess’ passion and enthusiasm is for the cause.
“The comments made in her speech further illustrate her knowledge and understanding of what SportsAid's core mission really is - to help tomorrow's sporting heroes, today, to give them the opportunity and recognition they deserve. I felt very proud last night."
The Duchess also attended the ICAP Charity Day in December 2015 with HRH The Duke of Cambridge to help raise money for a number of charities across the country including SportsAid. The Duke and Duchess took a tour of the ICAP offices and spent time with SportsAid alumni, athletes and staff.