"When I financed the production of the film Chariots of Fire 30 years ago, I never imagined that I would be standing on a stage in Milan three decades later, to receive one of the most prestigious awards the world of sport has to offer.
"But that is what happened on Friday, 28th October, in an auditorium called Grattacielo Pirelli. In front of an audience comprising Olympic champions, in both the summer and winter games, and film makers from all over the world, I was presented with the Excellence Guirlande d’Honneur 2011 by the Federation Internationale Cinema Television Sportifs.
"The award, a beautiful golden garland of laurel leaves and interlocking rings was presented by Professor Franco B. Ascani, the President of the Federation. Professor Ascani made a most gracious and generous speech about my role in bringing to the world the story of two great British athletes, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, who triumphed at the Paris Olympics of 1924. By their own force of will and moral courage, Liddell and Abrahams overcome the obstacles put in their way.
"In Liddell’s case, he resisted pressure to make him run on a Sunday. Because of his Christian principles, he declined to do so and therefore lost his chance to win a Gold Medal in his favourite distance. Unwavering in his moral conviction, he switched to another race and still managed to win Gold. In the case of Abrahams, he endured vile social snobbery and outright racial prejudice, because he was a Jew, but defied his detractors by winning the 100 meters and taking the Gold Medal for Great Britain, the country that had made him feel an outsider.
"When my dear, beloved son Dodi brought me the script for Chariots, he told me that no one would put up the money to make the film. At the time, the film industry believed that sex and violence were all the public wanted to see on the screen. I knew better. Chariots has no sex, violence, bad language or car chases but it was a hit all over the world because people love a story of courage and triumph over adversity.
"I had no hesitation in financing the film. Dodi became its Associate Producer.
The film won four Oscar Awards, including one for the music by the great Greek screen composer Vangelis. It was hailed as a great British film. But it would never have seen the light of a cinema projector had not an Egyptian had faith in a script that hitherto had been gathering dust on a shelf.
"Professor Ascani said that the film, called Moments of Glory in Italy, was one of the greatest ever sporting films. That is why FICTS decided to make this special 30th anniversary award to me. I was delighted to see that previous winners of the Guirlande d’Honneur include Robert Redford, Pele, Alberto Tomba the great Italian skier and Ennio Morrricone.
"It was a great night in Milan. Afterwards, I celebrated with a couple of slices of authentic Sicilian pizza. A great day, thanks to FICTS, Professor Ascani and all the people who were so kind and generous to their visitor." - Mohamed Al Fayed.