By Paula Maloney, She's Game Sports
Nelson Mandela showed the world impossible courage from an early age. The former South African President passed away Thursday at the age of 95 and around the globe tears have been shed upon hearing the news. Fittingly, his funeral will be held in Johannesburg at the Soccer City Stadium on December 10th, an arena that he so loved. There will be a worldwide seated audience upon the venue where Mandela unified skins of color within the realm of sports.
"Sports has the power to change the world," was a refrain often repeated by Mandela. A lifelong sports devotee, he believed sports could bring attention to the oppression at hand in his beloved country.
Like a solid teammate, Mandela sought to unite his fellow South Africans and to reduce racial tensions. He recognized that sports could be instrumental in instilling all South Africans, black and white, with the sense of pride and unity one feels when competing together toward a common goal. Mandela hoped that that feeling of camaraderie would continue off the field.
Imprisoned for 27 years for opposing the minority white government, Mandela spent eighteen of those years in solitary confinement in a 7 foot by 7 foot cell on Robben Island. The iconic South African freedom fighter was a man who embodied optimism. Mandela credited this optimism as helping endure his long years of isolated confinement.
A soccer league was formed at the prison during Mandela's incarceration and he enjoyed viewing the games from his cell. A wall was then built to prevent him from watching the games. Mandela was not bitter, however, and instead used his imagination to quell his despair as he visualized the soccer games he could no longer see.
The selfless "father" of the prisoners appreciated the retellings of the prison soccer leaque matches after it had been played. He was a breathing example of a much tougher fight than his prison window being blocked by a wall. The players were soothed by playing soccer; Mandela was soothed by the joy that it brought his fellow inmates as it helped to ease their pain from being locked away from the outside world.
Mandela was freed from his personal purgatory on February 11, 1990 ,one month before I gave my birth to my first child. Black and whites were still segregated from one another in sports yet that was about to change.That moment in time brought myself and millions of others to loudly cheer and alternately cry.
In 1994, The man affectionately called " The Black Prince" was elected as the country's first black President of the post apartheid era.The sporting community took note as the country had endured boycotting in international events prior to Mandela's presidency.
He was an inspirational genius in the fact that he recognized that sports had the power to pull blacks and whites together. He knew that on a playing field players would get to know one another, appreciate one another, and ultimately value one another regardless of their skin color.
"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."
Those words were uttered by a man who was born into poverty yet rose to oppose the white power structure in South Africa.Mandela's dream of seeing unification on South African sporting fields came to fruition in 1995 with the hosting of various sporting events from the 1995 Rugby World Cup,the 2003 World Cricket Cup, and perhaps in the strongest nod to the visionary, the 201o Fifa Soccer World Cup.
The Rainbow Nation that Mandela envisioned was being played out in none other than a international sporting venue. What better way to honor one of the most transformational leaders of our time?
It has been said that this extraordinary man loved to run as a little boy. He surged far ahead of the pack at a young age, outran us all, and is forever in the lead. Former President Mandela's state funeral is on the sporting soils where mass democracy was showcased by South African soccer and rugby players alike. No two footprints left behind are the same and Mr. Nelson Mandela's footprints for equality will be difficult to replicate.
May the chanting of "Nelson, Nelson, Nelson, " be resonating for eternity . The world will be listening.
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