South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela, who died aged 95 on Thursday, was a sport-loving father and the sports world mourn him.
Mandiba (his clan name), in his lifetime, used sports to unite the blacks and whites in the then apartheid South Africa.
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… Sports 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… Nelson Mandela said in a speech in 2000.
Mandela used the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa to highlight his unifying agenda for the people after assuming office a year to the showpiece. He crowned his sporting successes by ensuring the nation won the hosting right of football’s 2010 World Cup which started 11 June and came to a befitting conclusion on 11 July.
FIFA president hailed Mandela’s impact on the 2010 World Cup and said there would be a minute’s silence as a mark of respect ahead of the next round of international matches.
“It is in deep mourning that I pay my respect to an extraordinary person,” Blatter said.
“He and I shared an unwavering belief in the extraordinary power of football to unite people.”
Mandela’s first World Cup appearance came before kick-off of the 2010 football showpiece final match between Spain and Holland and it was a sight to behold.
Blatter added: “When he was honoured and cheered by the crowd at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium on 11 July, 2010it was as a man of the people, a a man of their hearts.
“It was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced. For him, the World Cup in South Africa truly was ‘a dream come true'”.
The other-if not the most- defining moment in sporting legacy mended a crack in the racially divided South Africa. The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was incarcerated for 27 years for his actions in the fight against apartheid, handed the 1995 Rugby World Cup trophy to the Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, after the hosts’ 15-12 extra-time victory against favourites New Zealand.
South Africa rugby tweeted: “Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela. We will never forget the role you played in our country, in our sport, and for that we are eternally grateful.”
A former boxer, Mandela, died as Africa’s foremost and greatest elder statesman, a sport-loving father. An icon of an epoch.
“He was probably one of the greatest humanists of our time,” Blatter noted.
Former captain of the South Africa football team and Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar, 31, also paid tribute, tweeting: “In tears, the Father Of the Great Nation has passed on. R.I.P TATA MADIBA.”
Six-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt also paid his respects: “One of the greatest human beings ever..May your soul rest in peace..The world’s greatest fighter…”