With Nelson Mandela’s sad passing in December 2013, the world lost a truly great leader and an inspirational, unifying figure. Football also lost a passionate supporter, instrumental in securing the hugely successful 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, and a hero to many of the game’s best-known figures. Here, FIFA.com looks at some of what Mandela had to say about the beautiful game, and what those in football thought of the great Madiba.
Mandela on football"While we were on Robben Island, the only access to the World Cup was on radio. Football was the only joy to prisoners."
Mandela on football during his years in captivity
"I feel like a young man of 15."
Mandela’s reaction, at the age of 85, to South Africa being awarded the right to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup™
"I want to thank you for your courage and support against racism at a time when many were still hesitant. Thank you for making Africa a cornerstone of FIFA’s activities.”
Mandela on FIFA
"Sport has the power to inspire and unite people. In Africa, soccer enjoys great popularity and has a particular place in the hearts of people. That is why it is so important that the FIFA World Cup will, for the first time ever, be hosted on the African continent in 2010. We feel privileged and humbled that South Africa has been given this singular honour of being the African host country."
Mandela looking forward to the FIFA World Cup™
"Who could doubt that sport is a crucial window for the propagation of fair play and justice? After all, fair play is a value that is essential to sport.”
Mandela on the importance of sport
“This is my hero.”
Mandela on former Bafana Bafana star Lucas Radebe
"The people of Africa learnt the lesson of patience and endurance in their long struggle for freedom. May the reward brought by the FIFA World Cup prove that the long wait for its arrival on African soil has been worth it."
Mandela on South Africa 2010
Football on Mandela
“Nelson Mandela is our ‘Father of the Nation,’ and he played a major role in trying to put an end to discrimination in South Africa and the world. Even when he was in jail, he never gave up fighting for freedom or for our rights. He showed us that we all have to fight for a better life, for freedom and for an end to discrimination in the world.”*
“Mandela means a lot to the world. He's something special. There's only a few people in the history of mankind with that kind of charisma.”
“[Meeting Mandela] was the highlight of my career; to meet such a great man and a strong man and such a passionate man about sport and life will always stay with me.”
"Since the time when he was in Robben Island, he became a symbol for all Africans. Not only the South Africans, but for all of us. In terms of freedom and hope, he was able to symbolise that throughout his life and when he was president. If you look at South Africa, where it is right now, economically and otherwise, it is down to Nelson Mandela.”
"He has done so much for humanity and will go down in the history books. Long may we continue to cherish his contribution and celebrate his life. I remember him dancing with us on the pitch after the [1996 CAF Africa Cup of Nations] final and lifting the trophy. He was so happy, he was beaming. He's such a gentleman and such a believer in the abilities of South Africans. Everything he stands for is what South Africans strive to become.”
“Mandela has played a crucial part in history. He’s done some extraordinary things, not only for his country but also for the whole world.”
“Seeing Madiba at the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was an epic moment for me. It was one of those moments that will stay in the minds of many forever. There was a debate within the family and foundation before that whether the old man should attend – you know he is ageing and it was very cold. We knew there was no way people who travelled from overseas to watch the World Cup in Madiba’s country could leave without seeing him there – and it was important for him. Madiba stood up and said, ‘I want to be part of this celebration’. It was a proud moment for many of us.”
“Nelson Mandela is my hero outside of football. I was fortunate enough to meet him a couple of times. He was really clued up on his football and he knew me, so that was just unbelievable. It really stuck with me.”
“He fought his whole life for equality and justice.”
"Even as a kid, I didn't have heroes that I would chase for their autograph. But Mandela was different - he is the only man I have been properly in awe of. He was clear about trying to take South Africa peacefully into the next stage of their history. Because the aura around him was so powerful, meeting him humbled me. He had experienced so much, had been through so much."
“To be honest, we were all terrified at the prospect of meeting him. When you're in the presence of someone so great, you do get a bit nervous. In fact, we were a bit more than nervous - we were all shaking, even me! He does have a real aura about him. A truly amazing man."
Sir Alex Ferguson
“Nelson Mandela, there is no one like you.”
The song sang by South Africa’s national team to Mandela during a meeting in 2009
"Thankful Madiba for your legacy and your example. You"ll always stay with us."
*Cristiano Ronaldo *
"The greatest man on the planet has died."
"Nelson Mandela was one of the most influential people in my life. He was my hero, my friend, and also a companion to me in our fight for the people and for world peace. Let us all continue his legacy with purpose and passion."