Winners of Sports – Stories | World Press Photo 2021


Here is a look at the most alluring narratives from the Sports–Stories category of the World Press Photo 2021 contest.

Over the years, World Press Photo has played a pivotal role in showcasing significant stories—revolutions against corrupt governments, migrations due to conflicts, the battle of survival of endangered species, and stories of hope and resilience. The contest recognises and awards the best visual storytellers who have gone out of their way to document these moving narratives, with an aim to bring about change. This year’s winning images represent perseverance, as the world grapples with a pandemic amidst ongoing chaos and destruction. However, there is a glimmer of hope, as a few citizens have begun to take charge.

A basketball net supported by cinder blocks stands beside a street in Flint, on 25 February 2020. The board reads ‘FDT’, an acronym based on a popular anti-Donald Trump protest song.

First Prize: Chris Donovan, Canada

Chris Donovan is a documentary photographer and member of Boreal Collective. Inspired by his industrial hometown, Saint John, on Canada’s east coast, his work focuses on the intersection of community and industry. This area of interest has led him to work extensively in Atlantic Canada and in Flint, Michigan. Donovan works mostly on long-term documentary projects and places importance on active engagement with the communities that he photographs.

Those Who Stay Will Be Champions: The Flint Jaguars basketball team in Flint, Michigan, USA, embodies efforts to nurture stability, encourage mutual support and strengthen community spirit in a city struggling to survive. Flint, the birthplace of General Motors, is striving against outmigration caused by a precipitous decline in its motor industry, a health crisis brought about by the authorities switching water supply sources without proper safeguards, and the systemic neglect of high-poverty, predominantly Black neighbourhoods. Basketball is an integral part of Flint culture, and the city once produced dozens of big names at collegiate and professional levels. For decades, four high school teams battled as fierce rivals. Now there is only one high school in town. The Flint Jaguars were established in 2017, merging the teams of the last two schools that remained at the time. In 2020, the team fought to turn around what had up until then been a nearly winless history. By March, they were prepared to head to the division finals with an 18-4 record, having won more games in 2020 than in the previous three years combined. Their playoff run ended prematurely when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the season. Nevertheless, the student-athletes had had a taste of collective success.


Flint Jaguars’ team star Taevion Rushing jumps from one locker to another in the team locker room before the last regular-season game of his high school basketball career, on 24 February 2020. He aims to go on to play basketball at a junior college.

A competition in the Borlänge Bridge Club clubhouse takes around three hours, Borlänge, Sweden, on 4 August 2020.

Second Prize: Henrik Hansson, Sweden

Henrik Hansson (1976) is a photographer working at Fotograf Hasse Eriksson AB in Borlänge, Sweden since 1998. He has also worked as a summer substitute for the Swedish newspapers Expressen, and Aftonbladet and was previously awarded with Swedish Picture of the Year second prize in the category Sports, Stories.

Faces of Bridge: Bridgeklubb i Borlänge, a bridge club in the municipality of Borlänge in Sweden, has around 100 members. For a while, the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to games, but during the summer, a solution was found by separating players by means of crossed plexiglass screens. A tactical game of skill, contract bridge (or simply bridge) has its origins in the 16th century, in what were known as trick-taking games, but evolved into its present form in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s game is based on rules set out by Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, an American railroad executive, in 1925. A World Bridge Federation coordinates revision of laws, and conducts world championships. Duplicate bridge, in which the same deal of cards is used at each table, is the most widely employed variation of contract bridge in club and tournament play. Bridge, as with chess, is recognized as a ‘mind sport’ by the International Olympic Committee, although neither has yet been found eligible for the main Olympic program. The Swedish Bridge Federation currently has around 27,000 members and operates an annual bridge festival with more than 8500 tables in play.

It is usually completely quiet at the card tables. Facial expressions and body language are all that signal how a game is going, Borlänge, Sweden, 9 November 2020.

Saeed enjoys time with friends at Kosar Dam Lake, near Gachsaran, Iran, on 9 September 2020.

Third Prize: Fereshteh Eslahi, Iran, Podium Photos

Fereshteh Eslahi is a documentary photographer based in Iran. She is interested in different cultures and stories as well as relationships and emotions. In her work, she pays attention to the ignored details of human nature and its complexity as well as the behavioural diversity within different cultures and societies. Photograph/Esmaeil Ghanavati

Thoughts of Flight: Saeed Ramin is a professional traceur (practitioner of parkour) living in Gachsaran, Iran. Seven years ago, Saeed fell in a parkour competition, injuring the spinal cord in his neck. The aim of parkour is to get from one point to another in complex—usually urban—environments, without assistive equipment and in the fastest and most efficient way possible: running, vaulting, swinging, climbing and all manner of other movements, sometimes in dangerous situations such as between high rooftops. The discipline was popularised in the late 1990s and 2000s through films, video games, documentaries and advertisements, and it became popular in Iran after two Iranian traceurs appeared in the documentary, Jump London. Saeed’s injury when he fell was so severe that he could only blink, and doctors said he wouldn’t even be able to sit in a wheelchair. Saeed couldn’t afford extended hospital treatment, but with the help of his family, he improvised rehabilitation equipment in his yard, and despite the doctors’ predictions, was able to regain the mobility of his hands. Saeed regained more of his abilities, and is now able to manage a wheelchair. He still likes to do things other people are afraid of.

Saeed enjoys being hoisted high by a crane, while sitting in a wheelchair, at the Gachsaran Motorcycle Track, Gachsaran, Iran, on 11 September 2020.

Here is our complete coverage of the World Press Photo 2021 Awards.


Tags: portraits, documentary photography, photojournalism, sports, Stories, photo story, Documentary, Photo Essay, World Press Photo, photography contest, winners, Portrait Photography, World Press Photo Award 2021, World Press Photo 2021, Sports Stories