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Sport—cornerstone of Mandela’s success

Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Things that Matter
People lay flowers near a statue depicting former president Nelson Mandela, by artist Marco Cianfanelli, near Howick, South Africa, yesterday. This is the place where Mandela was arrested in 1962 and subsequently jailed for 27 years. Mandela died on December 5 at aged 95. AP Photo

“Sport has the power to change the world.” The words of Nelson Mandela.


If we all used this iconic international figure’s life journey as an example of how to live and think, T&T sport will take a quantum leap forward. His emphasis on forgiveness, engagement, reconciliation, the importance of unity and harmony the power of a vision, determination an indomitable will, patience and perseverance provide a template that has proven itself in the most trying circumstances.


Many rushing to share the profile and platform occasioned by his passing appear to be at odds with the ethos of the man to whom they are paying tribute.


There are many compelling lessons that we can all learn and aspire to, if we were to use Mandela’s example of authentic leadership.


That he was a great leader there can be no doubt.


Mandela was one leader who didn’t pay lip service to the power of sport nor did he engage in rhetoric or bandwagonism where sport was concerned.


Sport was the cornerstone of his strategy for the unification of black and white South Africa.


His legacy as US President Barack Obama said will endure for the ages. Mandela defied the odds, broke down barriers and championed human rights. He dreamed and pursued the impossible dream. A former heavyweight boxer, Mandela’s love for sport and his understanding of the power of sport was authentic and sincere.


Mandela’s courage didn’t allow him to compromise his principles. In 1985 when President Botha offered Mandela his freedom if he would renounce violence, Mandela’s response was apartheid should be dismantled firstly.


Branded a terrorist. He is reported as telling the US don’t tell him who should be his friends. The exchange coming after Mandela went to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro, Gaza to meet Yasser Arafat and Tripoli to meet Moammar Gadaffi. All three had supported the fight against apartheid.


Mandela inspired anti-apartheid protests here in T&T. Many have either forgotten or don’t know that in T&T early in March 1986 locals protesting against English cricketers who had played against South Africa were arrested and subjected to robust police action.


The images from South Africa’s Rugby World Cup victory in 1995 will never be forgotten as Mandela unified white and black South Africa by appearing in a dark green Springbok jersey with the number 6, the same as the then Springbok captain Francois Pienaar. 


It’s an image that resonated beyond rugby. The Springbok badge was a symbol of the divided apartheid South Africa. 


Visionary and courageous, Mandela understood that he had to make the Springbok jersey part of the new South Africa.


He faced strong internal dissatisfaction within his own party over his policy of nation-building through sport. His role in the return of a multi-racial South African team to the Olympic Games in Barcelona 1992 cannot be underplayed. It would not have happened if he didn’t sanction it. 


Mandela had identified sport as a way of achieving a multi-racial country. He was the first global leader to use sport as a tool to unite people and to redefine a country’s international image.


Mandela’s legacy to sport and the role that sport can play has left political and sport leaders with a powerful example and template. His strength of character and vision to stand up for sport in the face of much criticism from those close to him who didn’t see what he saw is or should be an inspiration to all of us. Sport can be a powerful and positive catalyst.


In closing I extend sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Isidore Smart, Gordon Delph, Emmanuel McDonald Bailey and Michael Als, all men who are worthy examples and role models for the youth of T&T. They made a positive difference to mother T&T during their life journey- Rest in Peace faithful patriots.


Brian Lewis is the President of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee(TTOC). The views expressed are not necessarily those of the TTOC. Visit for information on the TTOC , IOC and the Olympic Games.


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