Mandela’s death resonates in sports world

Agence France-Presse

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Some of the world's greatest athletes remember their encounters with the South African leader

GREAT INFLUENCE. Nelson Mandela's influence resonates well into the world of sports as great athletes mourn his loss. Rodger Bosch/AFP File Photo

WASHINGTON DC, United States (UPDATED) – Nelson Mandela’s influence was so powerful and far-reaching that he moved even those in the world of sports. 

Boxing great Muhammad Ali saluted the legacy of Mandela Thursday, December 5, saying the revered icon of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle “taught us forgiveness on a grand scale.”

Ali’s was just one of the tributes that poured in from the world of sports in the wake of Mandela’s death at the age of 95.

Ali, the former heavyweight world champion who himself became a beloved civil rights campaigner, said he was “deeply saddened” by Mandela’s death.

“His was a life filled with purpose and hope; hope for himself, his country and the world,” Ali said. “He inspired others to reach for what appeared to be impossible and moved them to break through the barriers that held them hostage mentally, physically, socially and economically. He made us realize, we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colors.”

He continued: “What I will remember most about Mr Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul, and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars, or the burden of hate and revenge. He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free.”

‘One of the greatest humanists’

World football chief Sepp Blatter, in Brazil on the eve of the draw for the 2014 World Cup, called Mandela “one of the greatest humanists of our time and a dear friend of mine.”

Blatter paid warm personal tribute to Mandela, who famously embraced South Africa’s predominantly white rugby team after they won the 1995 World Cup on home soil in a poignant moment of racial reconciliation.

“He and I shared an unwavering belief in the extraordinary power of football (and sport generally) to unite people in peace and friendship, and to teach basic social and educational values as a school of life,” said Blatter.

Golf great Tiger Woods recalled meeting Mandela in 1998, the year after his first Masters triumph.

Woods was playing a tournament in South Africa, and he and his father, Earl, were invited to lunch at Mandela’s home.

“It was one of the most inspiring times I’ve ever had in my life,” said Woods, who also marveled at Mandela’s capacity for forgiveness and ability to forge reconciliation after two decades in prison.

“I don’t think any of us probably here could have survived that and come out as humble and as dignified as he did. To lead an entire nation and to basically love the world when he came out, I think that’s a testament to his will and his spirit and who he was,” he said.

Love, thanks for Madiba

Another golf great, South Africa’s own Gary Player, tweeted his respects.

“Condolences to all on the passing of our beloved Father of the South African Nation, Nelson Mandela. Madiba we loved you. Rest in Peace,” Player said on Twitter.

Portugal football captain Cristiano Ronaldo posted a picture on his Facebook page of himself with Mandela, taken at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

“Thank you Madiba for your legacy and your example,” he wrote. “You’ll always stay with us.”

“We have lost a true gentleman and a courageous human being. It was truly an honor to have known a man who had genuine love for so many people,” said former England football captain David Beckham.

Tribute to a ‘great man’

The Australia and England cricket teams also paid tribute to Mandela at the second Ashes Test in Adelaide on Friday, December 6, wearing black armbands and observing a minute’s silence.

Both teams lined up in Mandela’s honor ahead of the second day’s play at Adelaide Oval as a photo of the anti-apartheid hero was shown on the ground’s large video screen.

The Australian cricket fraternity joined political leaders in voicing their respects.

“The world has lost a great man. RIP Nelson Mandela,” fast bowling great Glenn McGrath tweeted.

Former Test opening batsman Matthew Hayden added: “Very sad day as we say our goodbyes to the warrior for human rights and peace Nelson Mandela 1918-2013. May you RIP.”

In Dunedin, New Zealand, in the cricket Test between New Zealand and the West Indies, both sides stood for a minute’s silence in memory of Mandela before the afternoon session of play commenced.

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, one of the first international figures to visit Mandela in prison as chairman of the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons in 1986, reflected on his great love of cricket in his tribute.

“He was a tall, spare man standing very straight with a steady eye. He was a person of natural grace and dignity,” Fraser said of the 1986 meeting.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Mr Fraser, is Donald Bradman still alive?’ Later I was able to take a bat to Mandela, signed by Bradman, with the following notation: ‘To Nelson Mandela, in recognition of great unfinished innings’.” –

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