National Consortium for Academics and Sports

Commemorating Nelson Mandela
02/24/2014 10:22

I am writing this reflection on the establishment of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on a flight to Johannesburg for the memorial and funeral of Nelson Mandela.  No political leader better understood the power of sport to bring about positive social change.


It was breathtaking to be there to witness President Mandela take the oath of office after all those years in prison. At that very moment, I knew that anything and everything was possible.


All the embassies in Pretoria wanted to host President Mandela to celebrate.  But Mandela was a man of the people and he went back to Johannesburg where he attended a soccer match between Zambia and South Africa.


I was invited to sit in the box with President Mandela where I asked, “Mr. President, with all the diplomatic parties being held in your honor, why did you come here to the soccer match?”  He said, “I wanted my people to know that I know that because of the sacrifices our athletes made for so long, I became their president earlier than I would have without those sacrifices.”


It was the ultimate power of sport story.  He used that power again when South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2010 soccer World Cup.


My involvement in the sports boycott of South Africa starting in the 1970s grounded me with the knowledge that sport could bring about positive social change.  There was no such thing as “sport for development and peace” then.  Now as I attend events like the Beyond Sport conferences and see more than a 1,000 local, national and global organizations using sport for social justice, I look forward to celebrating the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.  I have no doubt that Nelson Mandela will be observing the celebration from above after contributing so much during his amazing and rich lifetime.



Dr. Richard Lapchick |