By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Laureus have cancelled plans to host their World Sports Awards in Rio de Janeiro this year, the foundation said on Wednesday.
"Laureus and the state of Rio de Janeiro have agreed that the 2014 Laureus World Sports Awards will not be staged in Rio," Laureus said in a statement. "Laureus will announce its plans for this year's Laureus World Sports Awards shortly."
The London-based organization did not give any reason for the cancellation, but said it would continue to support sports charity projects in Brazil. Rio state authorities also did not explain why the event would not take place as planned.
Although Rio officials said they and Laureus had "amicably" decided to cancel the event, a news report in Rio's O Globo newspaper last year said the state government owed Laureus $15 million and had not responded to requests to settle the debt.
Rio authorities said on Wednesday the government would pay what it owes Laureus and repeated the argument it used when a gathering of 4,500 soccer professionals was cancelled last November.
"The State Secretariat of Sports and Leisure recommended to the organizers of the awards ceremony that they use the incentive laws (tax breaks) to secure (financial) resources and make the event happen," it said in a statement.
The Laureus ceremony, often known as the sporting Oscars for the array of global sports stars it brings together, was due to be held in Rio this March for the second year running.
Last year Michael Phelps, Neymar and Mika Hakkinen were among the athletes who attended the gala at the city's Municipal Theatre.
The cancellation was another embarrassment for the city that will host the World Cup final in July and the Olympic Games in 2016.
It is the second major sporting event to be cancelled abruptly in less than three months.
Soccerex, a business convention for football's senior decision makers, was cancelled in November, weeks before the event was due to take place at the Maracana stadium.
Soccerex CEO Duncan Revie said the conference was cancelled "because of the civil unrest in the country", a reference to the wave of protests that hit the country in June.
However, the protests had all but ended by November and other sources said the event was scuppered because the Rio government unexpectedly presented Soccerex with a bill for hosting the event.
Rio is still to publish its official Olympic spending budget more than three years after being awarded the right to host the 2016 Games.
The Laureus awards go to the top sports men and women of the year and are supported by legendary sporting figures such as Nadia Comaneci, Martina Navratilova, Daley Thompson and Mark Spitz.
Monies raised by Laureus go to funding more than 100 community sports projects.
(Editing by Stephen Wood) nL3N0KP405