Sport: an agent of unity, peace

The late Nelson Mandela with Springbok captain of 1995 Francois Pienaar [image: Jay J Botes]

Remember when South Africa experienced glory in 1994, 1995 1996? 94 saw the first democratic elections take place, then the Springboks were victorious over their ultimate rivals the All Blacks in the 95 Rugby World Cup, and the following year Bafana Bafana lifted the African Cup of Nations trophy.

The hope and pride felt in the hearts of South Africans at that time was something for the books. The idea of South Africa as a united nation that the late Nelson Mandela had envisioned all those years ago was coming into fruition as the people stood cheering together despite the walls that had separated the nation in former years. The players in the national teams had come together with a common goal in sight, and this left no room for their differences to interfere.

Former Presidents FW De Klerk, Nelson Mandela, King Goodwill Zwelithini join Bafana Bafana for a victory picture in 1996 [image: Kick Off/Twitter]
For some people these victories were just great sporting events, but actually they had a ripple effect that played a role in bringing the nation together. Almost like a magnet in a way. Because through those triumphs, the Rainbow Nation showed the world that a future where such a diverse people are united was not a mere dream but was very possible and the best kind of tomorrow a country could ever hope for.

The UN Secretary General António Guterres once said that “sports has an unparalleled ability to transform, empower and unify people. Involvement in sport teaches ambition, perseverance and teamwork.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres [image: UN]
With that said, the power that sports has to unite people is undeniable, because talent does not discriminate. It will take people from different races, social classes, backgrounds, ages, you name it, they are all brought together and made into a unit when it comes to sports. Sharing space, equipment, ideas, hopes and treating another with respect are all crucial pieces in peace-building.

Now with three popular tournaments coming up – the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, and the Cricket World Cup which started yesterday – we hope to see not just the sport being played but also sportsmanship. A sports culture that includes the values of participation, inclusivity, and citizenship, and that encourages the growth of effective communication and tolerance.

International Day of Peace.org reported that Sports activities have been increasingly recognized and used as a low-cost and high-impact tool in humanitarian, development and peace-building efforts. In grassroots projects throughout developing areas of the world, sport is used as a tool in short-term emergency humanitarian aid activities, in long-term development projects and in the social re-integration of children and youth affected by violence and war.

How about we wrap up with the words of the late Tat’ uMandela: “Sports have the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sports can create hope, where there was once only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination. Sports is the game of lovers.”

Former President Nelson Mandela, Francois Pienaar celebrate the Boks their win in 1995 [image: The Times]