Nelson Mandela once said that sport could “create hope where there was once despair.” This might sound hyperbolic on the surface, but let’s not forget that this came in the midst of the former South African president’s 18-year prison sentence on Robben Island, an isolated hole where South Africa’s apartheid regime stowed away political prisoners and other state dissidents.
But even in the worst of conditions, sport inherently served as an inspiration and source of hope. While in prison, Mandela helped organized soccer matches among inmates, which eventually became so anticipated, guards had to build a physical structure so other prisoners could not actually see the matches and take enjoyment from them. But this didn’t stop Mandela from believing in the power of sport to lift people out of dark places.
A few years after his release from prison and his subsequent rise to the highest political office in South Africa, Mandela placed complete and utter faith in a traditionally all-white Rugby team, knowing that he might be one of the only people on the planet that could tow the delicate balance of not ostracizing South Africa’s white population while convincing the long-oppressed black community that this team could potentially serve as a symbol of national unity. The unlikely South African victory in the Rugby world cup in 1995 was nothing short of a miracle. Whether Mandela believed in miracles or not, there is no denying his belief that sport could accomplish miraculous things. He believed that sport had the power to build character and strengthen the individual, the community, the nation, and the world.
Nelson Mandela certainly was one of the most prolific, inspiring people of our time. We at Global Game Changers are proud to live in a world that Nelson Mandela helped shape. We hope that his legacy among other things will always remind people of the power of sport to inspire and change lives for the better.