Nelson Mandela personified struggles for justice and equality as he waged a long fight against apartheid in South Africa.
Madiba, as he was known by the Xhosa people he originated from, used sport to help break down South Africa’s racial segregation and unite the country.
Seminal sporting moment for South Africa
In a seminal moment for post-apartheid South Africa, he presented Francois Pienaar with the William Webb Ellis trophy in 1995 wearing a Springbok jersey and celebrating with the South African players – a team once synonymous with the racist regime.
“What happened was Nelson Mandela said ‘thank you very much for what you’ve done for South Africa’ but I said ‘thank you for what you’ve done’, Pienaar recalled.
“I almost felt like hugging him but it wasn’t appropriate, I guess. Then I lifted the trophy which was unbelievable. I can’t describe the feeling as I wouldn’t do it justice.”
Boxing great Muhammad Ali, who also used his sport as a means of overcoming racial injustice, said that Mandela’s struggle against apartheid had “taught us forgiveness on a grand scale”.
‘A man who could not be restrained by injustices’
“His was a life filled with purpose and hope; hope for himself, his country and the world,” Ali said. “He inspired others to reach for what appeared to be impossible and moved them to break through the barriers that held them hostage mentally, physically, socially and economically. He made us realise, we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colours,” said Ali.
“What I will remember most about Mr Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge. He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free.”
Mandela himself had been a keen sportsman and in the 1950s boxed four nights a week at a Soweto gym. He later wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, that he was attracted to the science of the sport.
“In the ring, rank, age, colour, and wealth are irrelevant,” he wrote. “I never did any real fighting after I entered politics.
“My main interest was in training; I found the rigorous exercise to be an excellent outlet for tension and stress. After a strenuous workout, I felt both mentally and physically lighter. It was a way of losing myself in something that was not the struggle.”
Impact felt across the sporting world
Mandela’s impact was felt across the sporting world. Cricket South Africa said: “RIP Tata Mandela. It is because of you that a represented Proteas team can express their talent across the globe.”
In cricket, a minute’s silence was observed before the start of the second day of the second Ashes Test between Australia and England at Adelaide Oval and both teams wore black armbands.
Play after lunch on the fourth day of the first test between New Zealand and West Indies in Dunedin was also delayed for a minute’s silence to be observed and flags were lowered to half mast.
Footballers have also paid tribute to the man who was instrumental in bringing the 2010 World Cup to South Africa, and whose last major appearance on the global stage was at the final, where he was given a thunderous and emotional reception from the Johannesburg crowd.
Ronaldo, Pele, Woods, Bolt, Nadal pay tribute
Cristiano Ronaldo was among the superstars to pay their respects to the Nobel Prize winner, with a message that quickly gained tens of thousands of retweets: “Thankful Madiba for your legacy and your example. You’ll always stay with us.”
Pele said Mandela was “one of the most influential people in my life. He was my hero, my friend.”
Former England captain, David Beckham, said: “We have lost a true gentleman and a courageous human being. It was truly an honour to have known a man who had genuine love for so many people.”
FIFA ordered flags to be flown at half mast and a minute’s silence to be held before the next round of international matches.
Tiger Woods, the world’s number one golfer, also paid tribute to Mandela and recalled meeting him in 1998.
“He invited us to his home, and it was one of the most inspiring times I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.
Tennis world No 1 Rafa Nadal tweeted: “Rest in peace Nelson Mandela, you have been a role model to the world. My most sincere condolences to family and friends.”
Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world wrote: “One of the greatest human beings ever. May your soul rest in peace. The world’s greatest fighter.”
Formula One driver, Lewis Hamilton, said: “One of the most inspirational human beings to have lived & without doubt the nicest man I ever met. I will miss you, we will miss you Madiba. God rest your soul, I love you like a son loves a father.
Mandela had tried to stay fit while imprisoned on Robben Island with an exercise routine in his tiny, 8′ by 7′ concrete cell.
“I was very fit, and in prison, I felt very fit indeed. So I used to train in prison … just as I did outside,” he told journalist Richard Stengel after his release.
‘We can create hope’
“Sport has the power to change the world,” Mandela said. “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 governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”
For all he has given us, the Fare network salutes Nelson Mandela.