Awakening Africa Magazine


How Nelson Mandela Used Sports to Bring a Nation Closer

2 Mins read

An exemplary leader to South Africa and the whole world, Nelson Mandela acknowledged the power sports hold and offered extensive support to South African teams. During his prison sentence, he vigorously advocated for a boycott against the South African teams in international sporting events.

From 1964 through 1992, South Africa was barred from competing in the Olympics and suspended by many international sports federations. Mandela backed the Makana football league, which Robben Island convicts founded. He could not play due to his solitary incarceration, but the Makana Football Association forwarded football as the symbol of freedom on the island.

Using Sports to Foster National Healing

Nelson Mandela also utilized sports to foster national healing and boost South Africa’s worldwide standing. When Mandela took office, numerous white South Africans worried about their employment and position. He did, however, treat everyone fairly by encouraging the favorite sports of all populations.

Immediately following his inauguration in 1994, Mandela attended a match in which South Africa defeated Zambia to commemorate the importance of football in the battle against apartheid. Following this visit, he also attended the Rugby World Cup final in 1995.

Rugby has historically been a white minority sport, but Mandela backed it just as much as football. The sport was the finest instrument for connecting him with individuals he would have never met otherwise. By donning the Springbok jersey in the World Cup final, he changed a sport that once divided people into one that united people.

His Efforts with Rugby

Significantly, Mandela recognized rugby as one of the defining elements of white South African identity. He famously claimed that to defeat the Afrikaners; they must be equipped with similar information and practices; they needed to grasp what “made them tick.”

Rugby has a long history in South Africa, dating to the early 1900s. During most of the previous century, South Africa’s legendary national team, the “Springboks,” remained a remarkable performer worldwide.

Rugby and its famous ‘bok’ were linked to segregation. With the end of apartheid, there was a demand to replace the symbol with the more neutral “protea,” South Africa’s national flower.

The Removal of the Logo

On the other hand, Mandela saw that removing the Springbok logo from the game would be a huge mistake. In early 1990s polls of white South Africans, around half said they could live with an altered national anthem or lose a flag; however, deleting the Springbok insignia was impossible.

Mandela was a staunch supporter of sports diplomacy. He hoped that by organizing games in South Africa, he might improve the country’s image and attract international investment. He had a key role in bringing FIFA World Cup to South Africa. His heartfelt speech played a key role in finalizing the right to host World Cup 2010. Mandela made his final public appearance during the World Cup in 2010.

Even though the sport is mostly about competition, Mandela associated sports with reconciliation, peace, and unity; he realized the importance of sport to the citizens of South Africa and exploited it in such a manner that all groups felt they belonged equally to South Africa – he used sport to create the country.

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