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Rugby Changed The World Thanks To Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela changed the world with rugby.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

“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.
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.” 

-Nelson Mandela

For nearly half a century, South Africa was a nation divided.  Under apartheid, racial segregation corroded the cultural fabric of the country establishing two completely separate cultures, belief systems and worlds of opportunity for blacks and whites living within South African borders.

Hatred and divergence replaced sentiments of unity and patriotism during apartheid; black and white South Africans and shared nothing in common and never stood on the same side of the fence – not even to collectively support their national sports teams.

Nelson Mandela was the man who changed the cultural climate in South Africa. During a time when the entire population was divided, he identified the one thing that both black and white South Africans loved; rugby.  Though at the time black South Africans took pride in cheering against the Springboks, their national team, Mandela discovered the people’s common love for sport and chose it as a vehicle to restore solidarity among the people of South Africa.

The 1995 Rugby World Cup was an international demonstration of the power of sport.

How Rugby And Nelson Mandela Changed The World


For the first time, black and white South Africans stood together in support of their national team.  Sixty-five thousand white Springbok fans cheered the newly elected President Mandela as he entered the stadium. Forty-six years of segregation, hostility and oppression were brought to an end, the catalyst being Mandela’s support of the South African rugby team.

Mandela’s support of the nation’s all-white Springbok team helped shift the attitudes of black South Africans, leading by example by way of forgiveness in hopes of a new beginning.  Apartheid was broken as a result of one man’s unwavering resolve to unite his country. That unity was manifest in the stands of Ellis Park on June 24, 1995 as both black and white Springbok fans cheered their team to victory over New Zealand.

The World Just Lost A Great Man

Nelson Mandela was celebrated and honored last week by world leaders and international cultural icons who paid tribute to his life’s work.  The sports arena has since been a gathering place for fans of all different races, beliefs and backgrounds who can share, if nothing else, a love for sport and their team.  Nelson Mandela’s legacy will continue to inspire athletes and leaders for generations to come, and the world will forever be a better place because of the impact he had.

How Anyone Can Learn From Nelson Mandela

The traits Mandela exhibited – his leadership, perseverance, integrity and commitment – are marks of character that are integral to any successful individual. President Bill Clinton lays this out beautifully in the video above.

Particularly in sports, these characteristics are required of those looking to succeed in a fast-paced, high-profile industry where the potential for global impact is significant.  Everyone leaves a legacy, but its those who commit themselves to excellence and dedicate their lives to achieving their visions leave legacies to be remembered forever, just like Nelson Mandela.

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