Sport can be a hobby or a competition. Even more, “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,” said the late South African activist and politician Nelson Mandela.
Mandela was a lifelong athlete. As a young man, he was an amateur boxer. During his 27 years in prison, he kept in shape through rigorous physical exercise.
The key moment in Mandela’s sporting life, according to Sports Illustrated magazine, was the 1995 Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg. Mandela had been sworn in as president of South Africa, the nation’s first black president, just a year earlier. Many of South Africa’s blacks were ambivalent about South Africa’s national team, the Springboks, which were dear to the hearts of South Africa’s white Afrikaners. Blacks saw the team as a symbol of apartheid repression. In addition, the possibility of rioting loomed over the final match between South Africa and New Zealand.
But Mandela convinced the nation to pull together as one and root for the team. South Africa went on to win the match, and South Africans, both black and white, celebrated the victory.
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they can understand,” Mandela said.