POSTED: December 6th 2013

Mandela touched the hearts and minds of the sports world

Nelson Mandela's dream was to bring the Olympics to South Africa / IOC
Nelson Mandela's dream was to bring the Olympics to South Africa / IOC

LAURA WALDEN /  Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The news of the death of Nelson Mandela hit the sports world hard and immediately Twitter was dominated by outpourings of memories, favorite photos and poignant quotes. It was a touching commemoration as people worldwide shared their inspirations about the impact that he had on their lives.

The former President of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize winner (1993) was 95 and passed away in Houghton, Johannesburg on Thursday December 5 after a period of illness. 

Mandela is known for his mantra: “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” 

In 1995, when the Rugby World cup was hosted in South Africa and then miraculously won by the host nation team, the Springboks, this offered him an opportunity to put his beliefs to the test.

The movie “Invictus” by Clint Eastwood captured the essence of the true impact of the occasion. This was during the height of the fight for reconciliation and to drive the point home at the start of the game Mandela walked out on the pitch wearing the jersey of Francois Pienaar, the white South African captain of the rugby team. It spoke volumes with just the symbolism of wearing that jersey uniting the country at that moment.

Mandela said: “Thank you very much for what you have done for our country,” to which Pienaar replied: ‘it is nothing compared to what you have done for our country.’ 

CNN quotes Rory Steyn, his bodyguard for most of his presidency. "I will never forget the goosebumps that stood on my arms when he walked out onto the pitch before the game started.

"That crowd, which was almost exclusively white ... started to chant his name. That one act of putting on a No. 6 jersey did more than any other statement in bringing white South Africans and Afrikaners on side with new South Africa," he added.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) head Thomas Bach issued a statement:

“The Olympic Movement is mourning the loss of a great friend and a hero of humanity.

 “However, his attitude towards sport can make us proud – proud at his understanding of the potential of sport to bring inclusion.”

Bach met Mandela personally when he was chairing the 2004 Evaluation Commission, Cape Town was a bidding city, and Mandela was a big supporter of the South African bid.

“When I met him, I remember asking him if he hated his enemies. He replied, 'No'. When he saw I doubted him he added: ‘If I would hate them I would not be a free man anymore.’ That sums up the man and his humanity.” 

Bach ordered the Olympic flag to be at half mast for three days in tribute.

Head of the British Olympic Association, Lord Sebastian Coe, noted, "Nelson Mandela recognised the unique power of sport to unite people from every walk of life. He understood that sport is built upon values that are universal, and that sport must be available to all. And he saw in sport the ability to transform lives by offering important lessons about perseverance, discipline and teamwork.

The values that are at the heart of sport -- equality, opportunity and mutual understanding -- are the very same values Nelson Mandela fought to instill and uphold. He lived his life with courage and conviction, and as we mourn his passing, we are grateful for the unending inspiration he has given us all."

One of the last publish appearances that Mandela made was at the FIFA World Cup in 2010 in South Africa.

Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA, said:  “Nelson Mandela will stay in our hearts forever. It is in deep mourning that I pay my respects to an extraordinary person, probably one of the greatest humanists of our time and a dear friend of mine: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

“The memories of his remarkable fight against oppression, his incredible charisma and his positive values will live on in us and with us.”

Blatter also ordered that the 209 flags of the world soccer body’s member countries at FIFA headquarters in Switzerland be lowered and flown at half-staff.

Joël Bouzou, President and Founder of Peace and Sport, said “Nelson Mandela was a very strong believer in the power of sport for building peace. He was able to overcome his frustrations and choose forgiveness over vengeance, even for those who had oppressed him. He is and will always be a role model, and the world will never be the same without him. But the fight continues and Nelson Mandela will always be a driving force for our movement.”

South African Olympic Committee (SASCOC) CEO Tubby Reddy said: “It was Madiba’s willingness to pursue a path of reconciliation and nation-building that has allowed South African sportsmen and women the opportunity to achieve so much on the global stage. Tata Mandela was instrumental in promoting the role of sport as an organ of change in our society and deserves huge credit for his extraordinary vision.

“It goes without saying that it is the duty of all our sportsmen and women to, at all times, continue to pay tribute to his legacy by conducting themselves in a fitting manner wherever they may be competing in national colours.” 

Keywords · IOC · Olympics · Nelson Mandela

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