A boxer in his youth, Nelson Mandela's pugnacity in South Africa led to the country hosting the rugby World Cup in 1995, when he encouraged black South Africans to support the previously hated Springboks national side.

Following the final victory over New Zealand, Mandela presented the trophy to Afrikaner captain François Pienaar, wearing a replica shirt with Pienaar's number 6 on the back. It was a gesture which fortified South Africa's reconciliation.

nelson mandela sport

Two leaders: Mandela meets a 21-year-old Roy Keane in 1993


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  • Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress (ANC), adopts a boxing pose, wearing shorts, t-shirt and boxing gloves, circa 1950. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson and ANC Leader Nelson Mandela

    1993: Portrait of Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson and ANC Leader Nelson Mandela during their tour to South Africa. \ Mandatory Credit: David Rogers/Allsport

  • Sport, Football, Johannesburg, South Africa, July 1993, Manchester United's Roy Keane shakes hands with Nelson Mandela (Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

  • Ryan Giggs of Manchester United and Nelson Mandela of South Africa

    1993: Ryan Giggs of Manchester United meets Nelson Mandela of South Africa. \ Mandatory Credit: David Rogers/Allsport

  • Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson and ANC Leader Nelson Mandela

    1993: Portrait of Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson and ANC Leader Nelson Mandela during their tour to South Africa. \ Mandatory Credit: David Rogers/Allsport

  • Sport, Football, Johannesburg, South Africa, 28th July 1993, The Manchester United team line-up together for a group photograph with Nelson Mandela, Back Row L-R: Peter Schmeichel, Brian McClair, John O'Kane, Steve Bruce, Mandela, Dion Dublin, Roy Keane,

    Caption: Sport, Football, Johannesburg, South Africa, 28th July 1993, The Manchester United team line-up together for a group photograph with Nelson Mandela, Back Row L-R: Peter Schmeichel, Brian McClair, John O'Kane, Steve Bruce, Mandela, Dion Dublin, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Front Row L-R: Paul Parker, Clayton Blackmore, Denis Irwin, Bryan Robson, Mike Phelan and Darren Ferguson (Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

  • SAFRICA-MANDELA-OBIT

    Former South African president and Nobel peace prize laureate Nelson Mandela (C) poses with the South African rugby union team 27 October 2007 at the Mandela foundation in Johannesburg, as part of the celebrations for the team's victory of the Rugby world cup in France. South African rugby chiefs said Friday that the Springboks would tour Soweto on their nationwide World Cup victory parade after an outcry over a decision to bypass the country's biggest township. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Springboks Visit Nelson Mandela In Houghton

    JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - 27: Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela poses with South Africa Rugby Union coach Jake White (L), South Africa Rugby Union captain John Smit (R) and the Webb-Ellis cup during the Springboks visit to Nelson Mandela at his residence on October 27, 2007 in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa. South Africa became the current holders of the cup after defeating Former champions England 15-6 in the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

  • le président sud-africain, Nelson Mandel

    South Africa's president Nelson Mandela congratulates South Africa's rugby team captain François Pienaar before handing him the William Webb trophy after his team's victory over New Zealand (15-12) in the final of the Rugby World Cup at Ellis Park in Johannesburg 24 June 1995. AFP/JEAN-PIERRE MULLER (Photo credit should read JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • RUGBY-WC-FINAL 95-ZAF-NZ

    le capitaine de l'équipe de rugby d'Afrique du Sud, François Pienaar (D) est félicité par le Président de la République Sud-africaine, Nelson Mandela (G), après la victoire de son équipe en finale de la Coupe du Monde de Rugby face à la Nouvelle-Zélande le 24 juin 1995 à Johannesburg.South African rugby team captain, Francois Pienaar (R), is congratulated by South African President Nelson Mandela (L) after South Africa won the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand 24 June 1995 in Johannesburg. (Photo credit should read JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1995 Rugby World Cup

    JOHANNESBURG - JUNE 24: South Africa's president Nelson Mandela congratulates South Africa's rugby team captain Francois Pienaar before handing him the William Webb trophy after his team's victory over New Zealand (15-12) in the final of the Rugby World Cup at Ellis Park in Johannesburg 24 June 1995. (Photo byJEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • South African President Nelson Mandela(L) shakes h

    CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 24: South African President Nelson Mandela(L) shakes hands with South African national rugby team member Tiaan Straus as his teammates look on 24 May in Capetown. The Springboks will play the defending world champion team of Australia for the opening game of the 1995 World Cup 25 May. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read GARY BERNARD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • STH AFRICA V AUSTRAL

    25 MAY 1995: NELSON MANDELLA WALKS WITH SIR EWART BELL, THE RUGBY WORLD CUP CHAIRMAN, DURING THE AFRICA V AUSTRALIA OPENING MATCH OF THE 1995 RUGBY WORLD CUP FINALS AT THE NEWLANDS STADIUM IN CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA. Mandatory Credit: Clive Mason/ALLSPORT

  • (FILES) South Africa's president Nelson

    (FILES) South Africa's president Nelson Mandela congratulates South African rugby team's captain Fran?ois Pienaar before handing him the William Webb trophy after his team's victory over New Zealand (15-12) in the final of the Rugby World Cup at Ellis Park in Johannesburg 24 June 1995. Nelson Mandela will not be going to France for 20 October 2007 showdown with England, his office said 16 October 2007. 'Because of his age, it is very difficult for Madiba to undertake long trips,' the 89-year-old former South African president's spokeswoman Zelda Le Grange told the SAPA news agency. AFP PHOTO FILES / JEAN-PIERRE MULLER (Photo credit should read JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • First black South African president Nels

    First black South African president Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel appear and wave to fans from the field before the 2010 football World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain on July 11, 2010 at Soccer City stadium in Soweto, suburban Johannesburg. NO PUSH TO MOBILE / MOBILE USE SOLELY WITHIN EDITORIAL ARTICLE - AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • South Africa's former President Nelson M

    South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela (L) waves as he arrives with his wife Graca Machel to attend the 2010 World Cup football final Netherlands vs. Spain on July 11, 2010 at Soccer City stadium in Soweto, suburban Johannesburg. NO PUSH TO MOBILE / MOBILE USE SOLELY WITHIN EDITORIAL ARTICLE - AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

  • South Africa's former President Nelson M

    South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela (centre L) and his wife Graca Machel wave on their arrival after closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup just before the football final between The Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City stadium in Soweto, suburban Johannesburg on July 11, 2010. NO PUSH TO MOBILE / MOBILE USE SOLELY WITHIN EDITORIAL ARTICLE - AFP PHOTO / JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • SAFRICA-MANDELA-OBIT

    Former South African President Nelson Mandela holds the Jules Rimet World cup beside Capetown Archbishop Desmond Tutu on May 15, 2004 at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich. AFP PHOTO FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • English football captain David Beckham (

    English football captain David Beckham (R) poses with his team and former South AFrican president Nelson Mandela (C, sitting) 21 May 2003 in Johannesburg. Beckham and members of his team beamed today after meeting Mandela, with the skipper saying it was 'an amazing honour to greet the elderly statesman'. AFP PHOTO POOL (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Former South African president Nelson Ma

    Former South African president Nelson Mandela (L) meets English football captain David Beckham 21 May 2003 in Johannesburg. Beckham and members of his team beamed today after meeting Mandela, with the skipper saying it was 'an amazing honour to greet the elderly statesman'. AFP PHOTO POOL (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Politics - President Nelson Mandela - South African High Commission - London

    President Nelson Mandela (left) meets World Boxing Council heavyweight title holder Lennox Lewis on his arrival at the South African High Commission in London where Mr Mandela was hosting a fund raising breakfast in aid of the 'Nelson Mandela Children's Fund' which aims to help South African children who are homeless, without adequate education or in need of disaster relief.

  • SAFRICA/SOCCER-HOLLAND

    JOHANNESBURG - JUNE 5: South African President Nelson Mandela (R) presents a bust of himself to South African team captain Lucas Radebe in the awards ceremony 04 June after the Nelson Mandela Inauguration Challenge Cup, an international friendly against Holland. The Dutch won, 2-1. (Photo by TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • SOUTH AFRICA CRICKET

    CAPE TOWN - JANUARY 4: South African President Nelson Mandela receives a cricket bat from the South African Cricket captain, Hansie Cronje, during the lunch break on the third day of the Second Test between South Africa and India at Newlands, 04 January. (Photo by ADIL BRADLOW/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela shakes the hand of Alec Stewart of England

    SOWETO - OCTOBER 27: Nelson Mandela shakes the hand of Alec Stewart of England before the Tour Match between South Africa Invitation XI and England held on October 27, 1995 at the Elkah Oval, in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo by Getty Images)

  • American sprinters Michael Johnson (L) a

    American sprinters Michael Johnson (L) and Marion Jones (second from R) clasp South African President Nelson Mandela's hands, while Namibian sprinter Frankie Fredericks (R) peers over Marion Jones's shoulder at the President's home Genadendal in Cape town 25 March. The three athletes will be competing in the Engen Grand Prix Summer Series track and field meeting to be held in the city 26 March. (Photo credit should read ANNA ZIEMINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)


In 2010, his country became the first African nation to stage the football World Cup. That honour, and the privilege 15 years earlier, would not have been possible without him.

"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair," he once eloquently said.