When Nelson Mandela made his “Sports Can Change the World” speech at the Laureus World Sports Awards 2000 in Monaco, he brought to the forefront something that most of us keep forgetting, which is that all human beings are more similar than they are different. When people come together to support a united cause or interest they begin seeing how outrageous and illogical it is to judge and divide people based on the color of their skin, their ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality or anything else that makes them who they are.
“Sport,” Mandela said, “has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
Mandela saw the value in sport at a young age. Growing up he loved to box. Some might argue boxing gave him the patience and will to keep fighting for anything and everything he believed in. Later on in his life, games of soccer with his prison mates helped maintain his sanity during his 27-year prison stay on Robben Island.
What Mandela saw in sport was its purity. He saw a passion, a hobby, or a communal event that did not segregate based on irrelevant factors. The fact that anyone of any background and even of any skill could participate in playing or watching a game was the beautiful thing about sport. Unlike most things in this world, the idea of sport is based on inclusion.
One of the best examples of how sport was used to bring a community together was demonstrated during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Mandela was able to use political savvy to unite South Africa. “He had the political genius to transform a symbol of division – the Springbok jersey – into an instrument of unity, which is why he is the greatest political leader of our time”, as written in BBC Sport.
How Can Sport Help in the Future?
The 1995 Rugby World Cup was hardly the only time that we saw Sport bring out our humanity in an inhumane situation. The Christmas Truce was another event that illustrated the wonderful impact of sport. The truce was a series of unofficial ceasefires in around Christmas of 1914, during World War I, which saw combatants on the German and British sides exchange seasonal greetings, food, gifts, and yes even a game soccer. Through competitive games of soccer, the soldiers were able to see that they were all pretty much similar. They all had families they wanted to get back to, kids they missed, dreams they wanted to pursue, and places they wanted to go. The truce made harming one another that much more difficult, which led to the high commands from both sides banning this kind of socialization from ever happening again.
Like the 1995 World Cup, the Christmas Truce demonstrated moments of peace and humanity through sport when no hope for such things seemed possible. I have always been a firm believer in the power of sport. There is just something so romantic about the games we cherish and the lessons they teach us. Sports, I believe, bring communities together even during times of conflict, while teaching us life lessons about teamwork, dedication, adversity, failure, and even chance. Growing the popularity of and improving access to sports globally is an important goal and passion of mine, and one, which I believe, maybe naively, can contribute to a more humane world. That is why I decided to work on a startup called Athlete Builder. And that is why I am writing this article today.
Whatever sport you play and at whatever level, always remember to celebrate, enjoy, and cherish participating in one the most pure and wonderful human activities we have available to us. Let it be a representation of how gracious we really are. Let it eliminate injustice and illustrate inclusion. Let sport change the world.