Russian tennis superstar Maria Sharapova became a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in February 2007. While she addresses on global issues in her role as Goodwill Ambassador, she also places a special focus on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster recovery and development efforts in a region often lacking in resources and which is of special personal significance for her.
In August 2008 a US $210,000 scholarship program for young people from Chernobyl-affected areas of Belarus was launched. The program is a joint initiative of the Maria Sharapova Foundation and UNDP. The scholarships are enabling 12 financially disadvantaged students from Chernobyl-affected regions to pursue studies in the fine arts at two leading universities in Belarus. Sharapova’s foundation has also contributed $100,000 to youth-oriented projects in the Chernobyl-affected regions of Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine. After visiting the projects in 2010, Sharapova donated $250,000 to expand a UNDP-supported programme that provides sports and physical activities for youth in the area affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
“I am so glad to be able to see these inspiring children and the wonderful projects that my Foundation and UNDP have been supporting for the past two years“, said the tennis star. “They are definitely a good example of how local communities can overcome the ‘victim syndrome’, take greater control over their lives and build productive futures for themselves.”
In 2008, she teamed up "Against Poverty" with National Basketball Association star LeBron James on a UNDP advertisement to garner support for achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). World-renowned photographer Patrick Demarchelier photographed both stars for this series of advertisements. The ad has been published pro bono in major international newspapers and magazines, including the Financial Times, Vanity Fair and in-flight magazines. Maria Sharapova also supports activities related to the Chernobyl Anniversary.
Maria Sharapova also featured in poster campaigns like the UN “Seal the Deal” climate change campaign launched for the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and the UNDP women’s empowerment campaign “When women win, we all win.”
Sharapova was born in 1987 in Siberia, after her family fled Gomel in the wake of the Chernobyl accident. After two years in Nyagan, the family moved to the Black Sea town of Sochi, Russia. In 1995 Sharapova left Russia to study tennis in the United States. In 2004 she won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon and was named Women’s Tennis Association player of the year. In 2006 she won the U.S. Open and, in 2008 she won the Australian Open.
In January 2014 Maria Sharapova was ranked World No. 3 by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and was the top Russian player. Highlights of 2013 include winning Indian Wells and Stuttgart and reaching the final at the French Open and the semis of the Australian Open.