Learning From Mandela

(Guest Post from Mark Miller, Owner, Soccer Shots Buffalo)

It’s truly amazing what you can realize as an adult.

When Nelson Mandela passed away on December 5, I thought of his contributions to South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement, and his status as a world symbol for peace and unity.

But over the weekend, while browsing social media posts about the former leader, I was reminded of something that I had heard and was vaguely aware of: his love of sport. Mandela once said, “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. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.”

SS Mandela Learning From Mandela

I was so moved by that quote. It’s so true at Soccer Shots. Small children from disparate backgrounds are all one and the same on our ‘Soccer Island’ while kicking a ball around and cheering each other on as they shoot a goal.

I thought it was important to share what was behind Mandela’s inspirational words. It can be a great opportunity for a discussion with your kids on many topics, from acceptance to forgiveness.

South Africa was racially segregated, as many know. That segregation extended even into the sporting world. In 1995, Mandela joined a crowd comprised of predominantly white South Africans at the Rugby World Cup, where the Springboks, the South African team, was playing. They won, and Mandela presented the white captain with the trophy. This was captured in the 2009 film, Invictus.

It started a movement, and the Springboks’ success galvanized the entire nation. By reaching out with an olive branch, Mandela united his country around the sport. The jerseys, once-hated because they were seen as whites-only apparel, became ubiquitous on whites and blacks alike.

Captain Francois Pienaar said of that moment when Mandela handed him the trophy, “We didn’t have the support of 63,000 South Africans today. We had the support of 42 million.”

We’re always amazed at the power of sport (especially soccer) because it puts all countries on a worldwide stage, like the upcoming World Cup — but it’s incredible to think that a leader as influential as Nelson Mandela saw sports the same way. He not only realized this, but actually made use of this to bring about change!