Nelson Mandela was known throughout the world for his lifetime campaign for democracy, peace and social justice. He stood for freedom, equality and inclusion for all.
Mandela once said that “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”
Mandela was also a champion of the rights of disabled people in sport and amongst other disability campaigns became a supporter of the Special Olympics and the rights of intellectually disabled people.
In 2001, Mandela returned to Robben Island — where he had long been imprisoned — along with Special Olympics athletes from around the world. They lit the Special Olympics Flame of Hope as a symbol to all intellectually disabled people that freedom will come their way. Mandela’s resilience has been an inspiration, sending a message of hope for those who have been treated unjustly, those who have been isolated and those who are misunderstood.
Former President Mandela also addressed the Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2003. “Few things in life could have given me greater pleasure or brought me more honor than to be associated with the Special Olympics. I regard myself privileged to be here on this occasion. Special Olympics is a testament to the indestructibility of the human spirit. Many of you have suffered great disadvantage in your lives…you serve as an example and inspiration…you, the athletes are the ambassadors of the greatest of humankind. You inspire us to know that all obstacles to human achievement and progress are surmountable.
”After watching some of the competitions, Mandela said: “When you attend a Special Olympics Games…and watch the sheer joy on faces – not just of the athletes, but more overwhelmingly among spectators – you begin to realize there is much more at work than simply athletic competition. On one hand, it is the story of years of tragedy transformed into pure joy, driven by the beauty of sheer effort. But at the same time, it is a profound statement of inclusion – that everybody matters, everybody counts, every life has value, and every person has worth.”
Nelson Mandela understood more than any of us the power of sport to change lives and spread a message for social equality and inclusion. His legacy of humanity, equality and inclusion will live on for all generations to come.
Level Playing Field honours and celebrates the life of the greatest of men, Nelson Mandela, who passed away on 5 December at the age of 95.