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Mandela and football: A tribute

Goal.com

By Peter Pedroncelli | Managing Editor - Africa

On Thursday evening former South African president Nelson Mandela passed away in his Johannesburg home after a battle with a recurring lung infection, which had plagued him for some time, and accounted for the majority of his four visits to hospital in the last nine months.

His sad passing at the age of 95 has left many South Africans and countless people around the world in mourning for a man whose legacy and jovial nature will forever remain in their hearts.

After a hugely successful 2010 World Cup hosted in South Africa, it is fitting to remember Madiba’s part in bringing the greatest show on earth to the rainbow nation.

On February 2 1990, South African President F.W. de Klerk lifted the 30-year ban on the African National Congress and black nationalist Nelson Mandela. He was released from prison on February 11, after 27 years behind bars.

A lawyer from the Transkei, Mandela was convicted of treason and sabotage in June 1964 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent the first 18 years of his sentence on Robben Island, off Cape Town, doing hard labour, and later spent time at Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison, closer to the mainland.

Mandela refused numerous offers for early release from the government in Pretoria because of the conditions attached. The world's best-known political prisoner, Mandela was 71 when he was released.

Following his release, he negotiated the end of apartheid, took over as South Africa's first black president after the country held its first all-race election, and began reuniting the people of South Africa under one flag with his incredible wisdom and patience.

The great man showed unbelievable forgiveness, willingness to move on and consider his jailers of 27 years as fellow South Africans, and the ability to lead a country with wisdom and integrity. He led the country until 1999, and is still seen by most people in the country as the best leader the nation has had the pleasure of following.


                   Years of struggle |
Replica Of Nelson Mandela's Jail Cell On Robben Island

It must have been amazing for Madiba to be able to see the culmination of his life’s work when the showpiece event took place on African soil for the first time in its 80-year history, and after Fifa, fans and players deemed the event a resounding success, the former head of state felt a great deal of pride, as most South Africans did.

He was fundamental in bringing the World Cup to South Africa for many reasons, not least of which was the fact that his leadership of the government and the fall of apartheid allowed for sanctions against the country to be dropped.

This then gave way for a number of sporting events to take place in the country, with the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and then the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996 creating the beginnings of a positive image of South Africa in the eyes of the world. These sporting events went forward without problems, and it was then that the idea of a football World Cup in South Africa, one of the greatest of all world events, became a possibility.

His efforts allowed for South Africa to become the beautiful place it is today, and his struggle brought attention to the cause of bringing the World Cup to the country, and the continent.

Mandela has been described as the architect of the 2010 World Cup by Fifa president Sepp Blatter, and the head of the football world governing body is correct, because his efforts inspired the idea, and his continual hard work allowed for the bid to be well received by the international community.


                            A Great Leader | Nelson Mandela's Message At The Final Draw In Cape Town

"You are the true architect of this Fifa World Cup; your presence and commitment made it happen. Now the first African Fifa World Cup is a reality," explained Blatter when handing over the trophy to Mandela at a press conference.

After losing the 2006 bid to Germany by a few votes a number of years earlier, the South African Organising Committee, spurred on by Nelson Mandela, came back strongly to take the 2010 honour and begin building towards the 2010 World Cup.

Mandela had stated that South Africa possessed the necessary facilities of international standard and could surely host the World Cup, and this assurance from the world’s most famous prisoner was enough to convince the world to give an African country the chance that was necessary, and with one foot in the door the committee did their job well and the rest is history, along with the tournament itself.


                                 Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | Named after the great man

The stadium in Port Elizabeth, which saw a number of matches during the competition was named the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, and it is fitting that his name be attached to the world-class venue with all that he had done to bring the Cup to his beloved country.

South Africa can be very proud of their honorary leader and a man who could not be broken by imprisonment or hatred. He was a role model to millions of people and an over-achiever who will forever be remembered as South Africa's greatest son.

A very special moment from this past World Cup that will stick in the minds of many for a long time to come is the moment before the final match, when Mandela made his way onto the pitch, driven on a golf cart to wave to the watching world and grace the event's climax with his famous and unbreakable smile.

Looking back after his sad passing, the World Cup must be seen as one of his greatest legacies, and although he may not have designed any of the stadiums that were used in 2010, he was the true spiritual architect of the finals in South Africa, and of the freedom that people in the country enjoy today.

Goal wishes to extend their condolences to the Mandela family following his passing. May we all celebrate his life, and remember the many lessons he has taught us for generations to come. His spirit will endure, and people around the globe will be proud to have known that amongst all that is wrong with this world, there was a man who embodied greatness, perseverance and the ability to forgive even that which seemed unforgivable.

Rest In Peace Madiba!

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