“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” – Nelson Mandela
Seven days ago a controversial and contested presidential election rocked the United States. Many felt that the contemporary ideals of inclusion, unity, and diversity were rejected, sparking fear, protest and confusion around the world. With a campaign season defined by misogyny, racism and xenophobia, this election sits in direct opposition to the feelings felt by many Americans eight years ago, as history was made when the United States elected their very first black President. A man who inspired a nation to believe in change, hope and the idea that we are better together. There is a necessity to remember those feelings of understanding and optimism, as the world faces a time period defined by uncertainty, division and fear.
As America looks to the future, there is so much to be learned from history and the triumphs of those who defied discrimination before us.
On December 5th, 2013, Nelson Mandela passed away. In his wake he left a legacy of equality and empathy; unifying a nation and earning his place in history books through struggle, perseverance and faith. While Mandela will be remembered for many awe-inspiring accomplishments, his understanding of the power and potential of sport to affect change and promote peace was and continues to be unparalleled among world leaders. Mandela placed trust in the influence of sport to reconcile a nation.
Just a year after the country’s first multiracial elections and Mandela’s election as the first black president of South Africa, the country hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Rugby in South Africa was a white man’s game, a symbol of apartheid to many non-whites, a reminder of minority rule. As the South African Springboks reached the World Cup final, Mandela sported the green Springbok jersey; a symbol of oppression, beloved by his apartheid jailers. The Springboks took home the 1995 Rugby World Cup, but this sporting achievement was much more than a game, it signalled the beginning of a united South Africa.
While the political process in America may have failed to bring unity and inspiration to many, powerful tools, such as sport, may be the answer to bridging divides in society and promoting environments of compassion and empathy. Sport has a unique ability to promote acceptance, integration and understanding; working as an influential instrument to encourage respect for rules, peaceful reconciliation and non-violence. Sharing in the success of sport, be it on the sidelines or on the court, allows for the humanization of those around you. Pushing people to view one another as human beings and not opposing opinions. With so many stories similar to the 1995 Springbok World Cup victory sprinkled throughout history, sport maintains its place in society as a unifier and a source of constant inspiration; two things that this week our current world is in need of.
“The ultimate power of sport happens inside the huddle…it doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white, Middle Eastern, Latino, Asian or Native American. It matters not whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslin, Sikh Hindu or believe in any other religion or in no religion. It does not matter whether you are old or young, gay or straight, from a rich family or poor family. The team simply cannot win unless everyone pulls together. Imagine if that power of sports spread to all institutions and communities across the globe.” – Richard E. Lapchick
Written by Catherine Houston - Houston holds an MSc from the University of Edinburgh. A retired university volleyball player, Katie remains passionate about the power of sport as a transformative social tool and force for good. With an extensive background in both Sport for Peace and marketing, having worked previously with the UNHCR and PeacePlayers International, Catherine has joined The True Athlete Project as media and marketing officer.