Nelson Mandela, the Rugby World Cup and social change
- 07 October 2011 |
- Daniel Idowu
It has been said that sport has an important role to play in the efforts to improve the lives of people around the world as it helps to build bridges between individuals and across different communities. It provides a platform for development, reconciliation and peace. It is a fairly abstract concept but the 1995 Rugby World Cup is a perfect illustration about how the power of sport can aid in delivering profound social change.
The end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994 was a momentous occasion for all involved following years of struggle, violence, imprisonment and death. The following year South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1995, but the reconciliation while hopeful was still fragile. Rugby, alongside Cricket and Football, is one of South Africa’s national sports but traditionally seen as the 'white man's' game. This made supporting the team for many within South Africa a difficult choice because of the social allegiances, which accompanied the sport. The fact that South Africans of all backgrounds ended the tournament in full support of their team is a triumph for sport.
The greatest impact of the 1995 Rugby World Cup was not the victory of the rugby team, but the inclusive atmosphere it helped to create. It was not the sport that helped to achieve social change, but the enabling environment, which it produced. Nelson Mandela, the South African Rugby captain Francois Pineaar and South Africans of all backgrounds used this as an opportunity to celebrate what they had in common rather than their differences. It also helped to bring together groups who ordinarily would not interact together. The fact that South Africa won the tournament, made it a story fit for Hollywood, but the real success can be measured by the impact it had on South Africans.
More than a game
It is particularly pertinent to reflect on this now, as South Africa face Australia in New Zealand at the World Cup on 9 October 2011. Irrespective of the result, it is an opportunity to remember that sport can be more than just a game, it can help to produce real social change that can benefit people. Sport as a tool for social change is not exclusive to mega international events, rather it is being used to in local communities everyday to build bridges and affect positive social change.
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