One of Nelson Mandela’s greatest attributes was his ability to find new ways to bring people together. Here, Mike Silva considers his impact on sport; or more specifically, cricket.
There has been a great outpour of international mourning following the death of Nelson Mandela, and there is no doubt why: he was arguably the greatest leader of the 20th century. His passion for justice and fairness that drove him until the moment he passed is one that saw him attempt to reintegrate South Africa to the world through several avenues – one being through the beauty of sport.
Mandela was so keen on maintaining public appearances, that from the lowest levels of cricket from ground staff through to international cricketers he made them feel at ease while conversing. This is something which should not come easy to a man of such a magnitude, yet he achieved it in a flawless and immaculate manner befitting a man of such greatness.
An international ban was placed on South Africa based upon the archaic racist societal views dating back to 1948. This meant that only whites were permitted to feature for South Africa in both the Olympics and other international sports.
The ban imposed led to the birth of the ‘rebel tours’ to South Africa, which were once repressed memories, but now one that the nation has gradually come to deal with. ‘Rebel’ sides from countries such as England and Sri Lanka toured South Africa with mixed results.
The England and Wales Cricket Board was one board of many that punished such players who toured, leading to several suspensions, including that of the then current leading run scorer in test cricket, the doughty Geoffrey Boycott.
With calmness only few men have and the perceived moral authority to make a real change, Mandela was a key figure in the attempt to break up this segregation of whites and blacks. He did this by rejuvenating the passion which the Afrikaans once held for their revered sport, with a few simple words.
In 1991, following the return of South Africa's return to the world stage, there was great media attention, as they would not be allowed to participate in the '92 World Cup. All it took were a few words from Madiba, "Of course, we must play", and that was that.
Although South Africa was knocked out by England in the semis, following a mix-up in rainy conditions regarding runs to chase, they had stormed the international stage with a performance of great aggression that would be a feature of their cricket in years to come.
Mandela may not have loved the great game, but after all he has done for it, the great game surely loves him.