LONDON, November 30, 2011 – A spectacular year of sport has set up an exciting contest for the 2012 Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award.  Young lions like Novak Djokovic, Lionel Messi and Sebastian Vettel will be competing with a wide-ranging line-up of champions for sport’s most prestigious honour.

The Laureus World Sports Awards is recognised as the premier honours event in the international sporting calendar and the Awards Ceremony provides a high profile focus as stars of the sporting world come together to salute the finest sportsmen and sportswomen of the year. The winners will be unveiled during a globally televised Awards Ceremony in London on Monday, February 6.

Proceeds from the Laureus World Sports Awards directly benefit and underpin the work of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which supports 89 community sports projects around the world that have helped to improve the lives of more than one-and-a-half million young people.

Among the leading contenders for Nomination is Novak Djokovic, who became the dominant player in men’s tennis in 2011, winning three Grand Slam tournaments – the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – and taking over the world No 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal on July 4. He is the first Serbian to win a Grand Slam singles title and the youngest player, at 24, to have reached the semi-finals of all four Grand Slams in the open era.

Sebastian Vettel won his second straight Formula One World Championship in 2011. Driving a Red Bull, he secured the title at the Japanese Grand Prix in October, four races before the end of the season. It made Vettel the youngest driver, at 24, to have won two world titles. In his career, he has created a succession of records, including youngest F1 driver at a Grand Prix meeting at 19 years, 53 days, and youngest to win a race, the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, at 21 years, 73 days.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi, also 24, will be seeking to become the first team player to win the individual Laureus Sportsman Award, after another amazing year. The greatest footballer of his generation, he scored 53 goals in all competitions for Barcelona in the 2010/11 season. Messi played a significant role in Barcelona’s Champions League success in 2011, their third in six years, scoring a total of 12 goals, including both goals in the 2-0 first leg semi-final win against arch-rivals Real Madrid.

With the Awards Ceremony being held in London, British sportsmen are mounting a strong challenge to provide a home winner. Among the contenders are Tour de France sprint hero Mark Cavendish, world No 1 golfer Luke Donald, who headed the US PGA Tour money list, England cricketers Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, world triathlon champion Alistair Brownlee and track star Mo Farah, who became the first Briton to win a 5,000 metres world championship gold medal in Daegu.

Basketball produced two strong personal performances. Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki became the first European-born player to receive the Most Valuable Player Award in the NBA Finals, as Dallas Mavericks beat Miami Heat 4-2, and American Derrick Rose, at 22, became the youngest winner of the NBA’s MVP Award as he led Chicago Bulls to the NBA Play-offs. In 2011 he became only the third player in 30 years, along with LeBron James and Michael Jordan, to reach 2,000 points and 600 assists.

Jamaica’s sprint star Usain Bolt is probably best remembered in 2011 for the false start which disqualified him from the World Championship 100 metres in Daegu. However, it was still a highly successful championship as he won two gold medals – the 200 metres and the 4 x 100 metres relay, in which the Jamaican team set a new world record of 37.04 secs. Other outstanding athletics performances came from Germany’s Robert Harting, who successfully defended his discus title in Daegu, despite a knee injury, and Kenya’s Patrick Makau, who beat the legendary Haile Gebrselassie in September in the Berlin Marathon and broke the world record by 21 seconds.

In winter sports, Croatia’s Ivica Kostelić dominated Alpine skiing, winning his first overall World Cup. He secured the title five races before the end of the season and also won the Combined and Slalom World Cup titles. His win in the first ever Munich city Parallel Slalom event on January 2 kick-started an amazing month in which he won another six times and was second on two occasions. The world’s leading men’s cross-country skier, Petter Northug of Norway, won three gold and two silver medals in the Nordic World Ski Championships in Oslo. His gold medals came in the 50km freestyle, 30km pursuit and 4 x 10km relay.

France’s Teddy Riner is considered the greatest judoka competing today – at just 22. In the 2011 World Championships in Paris, he won gold medals in the Over-100kg division and in the Men’s Team category. This meant he had won a record six world titles in his career, becoming the first champion of his sport to achieve this.

The most decorated badminton player of the last decade, China’s Lin Dan, 28, won his fourth world title in August when he beat Lee Chong Wei in the final in the Wembley Arena. During 2011, he also won his third Korean Open – the first ever million dollar badminton tournament – his fourth German Open and his second Asia Championships.

Australia’s Cadel Evans won the Tour de France after taking the lead in the time trial on the penultimate day. He was the first Australian to win the Tour and, at 34, the oldest winner in the post-war era. He showed great tactical awareness, believing if he kept near enough to the lead he could take the yellow jersey in the time trial of Stage 20, which is what happened. He was also second in 2007 and 2008.

American Ryan Lochte produced one of the best performances seen at a World Swimming Championships, in Shanghai this year, when he won five gold medals and a bronze and outperformed the great Michael Phelps. In two of the finals he won, the 200 metres freestyle and 200 metres individual medley, he beat Phelps man-to-man.

Casey Stoner of Australia won his second World MotoGP Championship after victory in his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island in October. Stoner rode flawlessly, leading from start to finish. It was Stoner’s second world title – the first coming in 2007 – and it happened on his 26th birthday.

German tennis legend and Laureus World Sports Academy Member Boris Becker said: “This promises to be a fascinating year. I can’t wait to see who the Media Selection Panel will vote for, but I would be amazed if Novak Djokovic and Sebastian Vettel were not in the top six. Novak had a wonderful season. How many of us could have foreseen a couple of years ago that he would have pushed aside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to become world No 1. And I am a big Formula One fan and a German so of course I must congratulate Sebastian Vettel on his second straight Formula One World Championship. And he’s just 24 too.

“As you look down the list of names, you see superb performances everywhere – Lionel Messi was amazing again, Ivica Kostelić had a brilliant World Cup skiing season, Dirk Nowitzki’s performance in the NBA was terrific, then of course Teddy Riner won his sixth world judo title at just 22. Whoever the media choose, it’s going to be one of the most difficult decisions for the Academy to pick a winner.”

The Laureus World Sports Awards, which recognise sporting achievement during 2011, are the premier honours on the international sporting calendar. The names of the six Nominees for the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award, as voted by the Laureus Media Selection Panel, will be announced on December 15.  The eventual winner will then be chosen by the 47 members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, the living legends of sport honouring the greatest athletes of today.

The 2012 Awards Ceremony, which will be attended by the greatest names in sport, past and present, and broadcast to a worldwide TV audience, will be staged at Central Hall, Westminster, in the heart of London, on the evening of Monday, February 6.

Among the winners who have received Awards at previous Awards Ceremonies have been Jenson Button, Roger Federer, Sir Alex Ferguson, Lewis Hamilton, Justine Henin, Kelly Holmes, Rafael Nadal, Sir Steve Redgrave, Ronaldo, Michael Schumacher, Kelly Slater, Serena Williams and Zinedine Zidane. Guests attending the Awards Ceremony have included His Majesty King Juan Carlos of Spain, HSH Prince Albert of Monaco, David and Victoria Beckham, Sir Sean Connery, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Morgan Freeman, Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey.

Members of the Laureus World Sports Academy volunteer their time to act as global ambassadors for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, whose mission is to use sport as the means to combat some of the world’s toughest social challenges facing young people today such as juvenile crime, gangs, HIV/AIDS, discrimination, social exclusion, landmines awareness, education and health problems such as obesity. Since its inception Laureus has raised over €40 million to support projects which have helped to improve the lives of over one-and-a-half million young people.