Nelson Mandela

Week 14 (7 - 13 December 2013)

Nelson Mandela spoke more eloquently on hope and peace than perhaps any other leader of our time; his death has provided proof that the world has listened.

The sad announcement last Friday was a global news story in the most literal sense. The outpouring of love and respect for Mandela's life since has come from every corner of the globe; memories of his life's iconic moments have been recalled by politicians, journalists, musicians, public figures and citizens of every country.

A number of these memories of Mandela are associated with sport. Mandela was a fan of sport and a passionate advocate of the benefits it can enact on humanity. His most stirring eulogy to sport has been quoted in thousands of tributes over the past seven days for its poetry and power.

Speaking at the first Laureus World Sports Awards in 2000, Mandela delivered the following measured, deliberate lines:

"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. It laughs in the face of all kinds of discrimination."

As well as his oratory skills, Mandela also knew how to use imagery to communicate with his people. In 1995, one year into his Presidency, he wore a South African team jersey – once a hated symbol of apartheid for South Africa's black community – at the rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg. Pictures of him awarding South Africa's white captain, Francois Pienaar, the Webb Ellis Cup after an exhilarating 15-12 victory over New Zealand are rugby's most enduring images to date and ones South Africans will treasure for generations.

Mandela's mastery of symbolism was unrivalled. Before the fabled World Cup final, Pienaar admits he didn't sing the national anthem – to save himself from crying after seeing Mandela's South African jersey with his number 6 on the back.

Other examples inspire in equal measure. New IOC President Thomas Bach this week recalled asking Mandela whether he felt any hate towards his captors on Robben Island, where Mandela served the majority of his 27 years in jail. "No" was the response, "because if I hate, I would not be a free man."

In honour of Mandela, Bach and the Association of National Olympic Committees have called on all 204 National Olympic Committees to fly their flags at half-mast to mark a day of remembrance this Sunday.

Mandela used sport to spread messages of hope and peace to his people and millions, even billions, of others around the world.

Mandela helped South Africa become the Rainbow Nation – a nation capable of leading the rest of Africa towards an equally bright future.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons