Tributes poured in from across the sporting world for former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died aged 95 on Thursday, including from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), soccer governing body FIFA and a moving valediction from former boxer Muhammad Ali.
The heavyweight great said he was “deeply saddened” by the death of Mandela, who had inspired everyone to break barriers and reach for the impossible.
“He made us realize, we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colors,” Ali said in a statement. “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.”
South African rugby also paid its respects to the “miracle” performed by Mandela in uniting his country, partly through his embrace of the Springbok rugby team at the 1995 World Cup.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner won over many whites when he donned the jersey of South Africa’s national rugby team — once a symbol of white supremacy — at the rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium.
“All of our lives are poorer today at the extinguishing of the great beacon of light and hope that led the way for our country through the transition to democracy,” Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union, said in a statement.
“‘Madiba’ was a great man of vision, determination and integrity who performed a miracle that amazed the world as much as it amazed his fellow countrymen,” he said.
“Through his extraordinarily vision, he was able to use the 1995 Rugby World Cup as an instrument to help promote nation building just one year after South Africa’s historic first democratic election,” Hoskins said. “Mr Mandela was also instrumental in retaining the Springbok as the emblem for our national team at a time when a chorus of voices advocated a change of the symbol, for various reasons. It was an act of reconciliation and generosity of spirit which no one could have expected.”
As news of Mandela’s death spread around the world, the first of what are likely to be many gestures of respect took place at sporting events yesterday.
A minute’s silence was observed before the start of the second day of the second Ashes test between Australia and England at Adelaide Oval and at the first test between New Zealand and West Indies in Dunedin.
Cricket South Africa offered its initial reaction via Twitter.
“RIP Tata Mandela. It is because of you that a represented Proteas team can express their talent across the globe,” it read.
IOC president Thomas Bach hailed Mandela’s role in using sport for the greater cause and called him a “true statesman.”
“A remarkable man who understood that sport could build bridges, break down walls, and reveal our common humanity,” Bach said in a message posted on the IOC’s official Twitter handle.