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Nelson Mandela showed how sport can heal rifts

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"Death is something inevitable.When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people & his country, he can rest in peace."

Nelson Mandela was one of the world’s greatest modern day leaders. He was never a prisoner and even during 27 years of incarceration he truly remained a free man.

The demise of Mandela at the age of 95 was inevitable and his departure from the world has created much discussion about his ideas, his political beliefs and his legacy - a phenomenon which will continue long after he has been buried in the ground.

Rolihlahla Mandela was born in the Eastern Cape in 1918 and as a seven year old was educated in a Christian missionary. The African students were given English names and his chosen moniker was Nelson.

Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1943 and in 1956 was charged with high treason. A four year trial ensued and the charges were dropped, however in 1962 Mandela was arrested, convicted of incitement and leaving South Africa without a passport. He was sentences to five years in prison.

Two years later he was sentenced to life after being charged with sabotage.

Almost three decades later Mandela was released from prison in 1990. A year after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first black president in 1994. He stepped down as leader in 1999 and subsequently retired from public life in 2004.

Amongst many attributes the hallmarks of a truly great leader require a person to truly transcend the racial divisions that sow discord amongst us and to unite using common values that are sacred to all those who they lead.

For many modern “leaders” the word “unite”, or as some would say; "we're all in this together", is a convenient buzzword – a fashionable mantra used in public pronouncements to make one feel like a leader. It fools no one but those who have the temerity to make such pronouncements as well as their out of touch spin doctors.

Mandela was a man who believed in humanitarian unity and the Liverpool fan used the power of sport to harness the amazing energy it produced to help him achieve this strong belief.

Madiba’s position was reserved and revered as he was a political Galactico, who delivered his country from the dark days of apartheid after being imprisoned for 27 years. In 1994, the same year he became president, Roy Evans' Liverpool embarked on a tour of South Africa as part of the United Bank Soccer Festival, where they were greeted by Mandela.

The Reds were fortunate to be granted several audiences with Mandela. Recalling the memorable visit Liverpool legend John Barnes said: “Even as a kid, I didn’t have heroes that I would chase for their autograph.

“But Mandela was different – he is the only man I have been properly in awe of.

"I am not ashamed to say I had my picture taken with him and it hangs proudly on my wall at home."

David James tweeted: “When asked, who would I most like to meet? I said, I have already met him, Nelson Mandela, an absolute honour. R.I.P.”

Rob Jones was part of that South Africa tour. He too tweeted: “Very honoured to have been lucky enough to shake a true, true legends hand #inspirational #legacy.”

Mandela recognised the value of togetherness and also dissent in sports to bring about proactive and productive social change.

He saw it as a unifying tool and one of the most iconic memories in South African history is of Mandela presenting the William Webb Ellis trophy to triumphant captain Francois Pienaar after South Africa’s 1995 Rugby World Cup Final win at Ellis Park.

Mandela’s final public appearance came during the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He attended with his wife Graca Machel. Mandela had long ago understood the power sport held to defy oppression, heal divisions, fuel resistance and unite the masses.

In a challenge to the state sponsored oppression that he and his fellow South Africans had become accustomed to, Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world.”

Sport has the ability to heal rifts and create beautiful blooming friendship. It speaks one common language and inspires. Mandela was a boxer and he believed that the positive ideals of sport; fair play, teamwork, unity were all inherent principles within humans.

For 18 of his 27 years in prison, Mandela was kept in isolation and restricted from joining fellow prisoners in the prison football leagues at Robben Island. He kept tabs on the scores and the study and observation of the power of football allowed him to distinguish and determine it’s importance to his fellow humans, especially in matters of human compassion and revolution.

Speaking during a FIFA documentary Mandela said: “The energy, passion and dedication the game created made us feel alive and triumphant despite the situation we found ourselves in.”

South Africa was banned from the Olympics from 1964 to 1992, but things soon changed when Mandela became president. By the following year South Africa was hosting the Rugby World Cup.

For South Africa the World Cup slogan was “One Team, One Country.” By the end of that glorious month of rugby the Springboks had lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy and a jersey wearing Mandela was present at Ellis Park to hand the trophy to winning captain Francois Pienaar. It was the moment the world witnessed the uniting of the Rainbow Nation.

Despite intolerable discrimination Mandela chose resolution and reunion over vengeance and reprisals. His impact on modern day South Africa and the changes he has influenced have inspired the world.

Hamba Kahle (Go well/Rest in Peace), Madiba!

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DISCLAIMER

This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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