By Ann Liguori
The world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela.
And the sports world lost a giant as well.
Mandela used sport to inspire and transform. The great leader, a boxer in his youth, understood the power of sport to influence and unify.
His many quotes about the importance of sport and his role in many of the most significant sporting events in South Africa in the last two decades, speak volumes on his belief, in his own words, that “sport has the power to change the world…and awaken hope where there was previously despair.”
Five years after he walked out of prison in 1990, after 27 years behind bars, Mandela gleamed with joy as he presented the winning trophy to the captain of the South African rugby team, the Springboks, who won the Rugby World Championships in South Africa. Despite the team’s association with apartheid, Mandela’s message was one of forgiveness and unification.
He understood the power of unifying a nation with other sporting events including the 1996 African Cup Soccer tournament, the 2003 Cricket World Cup and the 2010 World Cup.
Using sport as a vehicle to promote peace and unification, Mandela’s messages became loud and clear.
South African golf legend Gary Player tweeted, “Nelson Mandela’s courage, forgiveness, love & hope inspired people around the world. He made me want to be a better man.”
According to an AP article, Player said that when he first met the great leader, he knelt down and kissed his feet.
Player said to Mandela, ‘I have never kissed anybody’s feet in my life. I have so much admiration for you. It is remarkable, how can you not have revenge?'”
Player said that Mandela replied: “You have got to start a new life and forgive and go ahead.”
Powerful words from one of the most influential leaders in history. Words that all of us should live by.
As intense as we are about our own sports passions and team rivalries, let us never forget the true purpose of sport as a way to bring people together in a peaceful and meaningful way. Let us remember that good sportsmanship and team work should prevail.
And let us carry Nelson Mandela’s spirit of hope, forgiveness and compassion with us always.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @annliguori.
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