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Nelson Mandela - Sport pays tribute to former South Africa president

Sport's greatest icons have paid their own tributes to South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela, who has died aged 95. Muhammad Ali said: "It was a life filled with purpose and hope - hope for himself, his country and the world. "He made us realise we are our brother's keeper and that our brothers come in all colours."


Mandela was "one of the most influential people in my life. He was my hero, my friend".

Muhammad Ali

Iconic former boxer Ali added: "What I will remember most about Mr Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge. 

"He inspired others to reach for what appeared to be impossible and moved them to break through the barriers that held them hostage mentally, physically, socially and economically. 

"He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free."

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods,  the world's number one golfer and a 14-time major winner, said: "You will always be in my heart Mr Mandela. "Pop (Woods' father Ear) and I felt your aura when we met, I feel it today and I will feel it forever. 

David Beckham: "You have done so much for humanity."

Former England captain David Beckham  said: "My heart goes out to the people in South Africa and Mr Mandela's family. We have lost a true gentleman and a courageous human being. "It was truly an honour to have known a man who had genuine love for so many people. Rest in peace." Former England captain Beckham met Mandela in Johannesburg in 2003.

Sepp Blatter

Sepp Blatter, head of world football governing body Fifa, said: "It is in deep mourning that I pay my respects to an extraordinary person. "He was probably one of the greatest humanists of our time." Blatter said of Mandela's impact on football's 2010 World Cup in South Africa: "When he was honoured and cheered by the crowd at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium on 11 July 2010, it was as a man of the people, 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'." He added that there would be a minute's silence as a mark of respect ahead of the next round of international matches. 

South Africa back in the days

Sport had been targeted for sanctions during the country's apartheid rule, leading to bans from the Olympic Games and various World Cups, and almost complete isolation by the time Mandela was released from his 27-year prison sentence in 1990. Mandela said "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," and his African National Congress saw sport as a way to unite the nation.

South Africa were allowed to send a team to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and enter the 1994 football World Cup qualifiers, long before the change in the political system was complete. "The International Olympic Committee wanted Mandela in their ranks, he was an icon of the world and at the opening of the Barcelona Games they treated him like a head of state," recalled Sam Ramsamy, former South African Olympic Committee president and now an IOC member. 

The image of Mandela handing the Rugby World Cup to Pienaar has become part of South African history. After he was elected president in 1994, the 1995 Rugby World Cup was the showcase for Mandela's unifying agenda in South Africa. One of the defining sporting images of the century was to follow in the final when, after South Africa's 15-12 extra-time victory against favourites New Zealand, Springboks captain Francois Pienaar was handed the trophy by Mandela.

In that moment, racially divided South Africa came together in a way unimaginable during the years the Nobel Peace Prize winner was incarcerated for his actions in the fight against apartheid. Pienaar released a statement which read: "Nelson Mandela was the most extraordinary and incredible human being, not only because he united his country when such a task seemed impossible but also because, through his unique humanity, he inspired hundreds of millions of people across the globe.

"I will always be profoundly grateful for the personal role Nelson Mandela has played in my life, as my President and my example." 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."

Ernie Els

South African golfer Ernie Els described Mandela as "the most amazing man I ever met. He was the father of our country and our continent" Els recalled an afternoon when he and Woods were invited for tea by the former president. "He treated us like we were his two sons," the 44-year-old said. "His sincerity was amazing and it really left a mark on both of us."

Serena Williams

The world number one ladies tennis player Serena Williams tweeted:  "Nelson Mandela led one of the most impactful lives of our time. One life - Nelson Mandela's life changed many. May his legacy live forever."

Sir Bobby Charlton

England's record goalscorer Sir Bobby Charlton said: "Mr Mandela worked tirelessly all of his life for racial equality and his legacy will live on way beyond our lifetime. "I feel blessed to have lived during his life span and privileged to have met him on a number of occasions."

Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock

South Africa cricketers Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock, former captain of the South Africa football team and Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar, South Africa rugby union players Joost van der Westhuizen and Bryan Habana and British Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton were among the many sportsmen to share their appreciation of the former president.

Cricket South Africa 
They used their official Twitter account to say: "RIP Tata Mandela. It is because of you that a represented Proteas team can express their talent across the globe." In Adelaide, a couple of hours after the news of Mandela's death was announced, a minute's silence was observed before the start of play on day two of the second Ashes Test between Australia and England. Both sets of players wore black armbands in tribute to Mandela.

Usain Bolt

Six-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt also paid his respects, tweeting:  "One of the greatest human beings ever. May your soul rest in peace. The world's greatest fighter."


Nelson Mandela: Key dates

• 1918 Born in the Eastern Cape

• 1943 Joins African National Congress

• 1956 Charged with high treason but charges dropped

• 1962 Arrested, convicted of sabotage, sentenced to five years in prison

• 1964 Charged again, sentenced to life

• 1990 Freed from prison

• 1993 Wins Nobel Peace Prize

• 1994 Elected first black president

• 1999 Steps down as leader

• 2004 Retires from public life


2010 World Cup in South Africa

On February 2nd 1990, South African President F.W. de Klerk lifted the 30-year ban on the African National Congress and black nationalist Nelson Mandela. He was released from prison on February 11 after 27 years behind bars. A lawyer from the Transkei, Mandela was convicted of treason and sabotage in June 1964 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent the first 18 years of his sentence on Robben Island, off Cape Town, doing hard labour, and later spent time at Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison, closer to the mainland. He refused numerous offers for early release from the government in Pretoria because of the conditions attached. Then the world's best-known political prisoner, Mandela was 71 when he was released.

Following his release, he negotiated the end of apartheid, took over as South Africa's first black president after the country held its first all-race election, and began reuniting the people of South Africa under one flag with his incredible wisdom and patience. Not to mention the forgiveness he showed, his willingness to move on and consider his jailers of 27 years as fellow South Africans. He led the country until 1999, and is still seen by most people in the country as the best leader the nation has had the pleasure of following.

Mandela turned 92 on 18 July that year, shortly after the conclusion of the World Cup in South Africa. It was amazing for Madiba to be able to see the culmination of his life’s work when the showpiece event took place on African soil for the first time in its 80-year history. 

He was fundamental in bringing the World Cup to South Africa for many reasons, not least of which was the fact that his leadership of the government and the fall of apartheid allowed for sanctions against the country to be dropped. Mandela has been described as the architect of the 2010 World Cup by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and the head of the football world governing body was correct, because his efforts inspired the idea, and his continual hard work was seen by the international community.

"You are the true architect of this FIFA World Cup; your presence and commitment made it happen. Now the first African FIFA World Cup is reality," explained Blatter on handing over the trophy to Mandela at a press conference.

7 Dec 2013
(BBC Sport UK)

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