Athletes Have Opened the Door; Politicians are Rushing Through It
Major sporting events don’t only have winners and losers. They don’t only have the power to bring people together in stadiums or in front of their televisions. They inspire entire generations. And they do even more than this. Major sporting events can open the door to dialogue. They can enable a better understanding of conflicts, and of the differences that separate peoples and divide nations.
I learned this lesson on the ground in South Africa and elsewhere in the world. It’s also something I’ve retained from my long career as a rugby player, with 29 caps as captain of the Springboks. I felt the strength of it when I came into contact with Nelson Mandela, particularly at the 1995 Rugby World Cup which we played at home. I had the privilege of experiencing the reach of sport under the guidance of this incredible leader and mentor in post-apartheid South Africa. Never, even in our wildest dreams, would we have imagined that sport could be such a force to initiate change.
At the PyeongChang Winter Games, the two Koreas’ joint parade at the opening ceremony, then the unified women’s ice hockey team competing in the same colours, paved the way for constructive talks between the two countries. The global impact of such an event, jumped on by media the world over, gives hope for reconciliation. But there remains something essential to do: transform this gateway into more sustainable reconciliation.
Sportspeople have done their bit. Now it will be very difficult to find common ground if politicians themselves don’t go on a mission to find solutions. At the Davos Forum, international leaders discuss solutions to tackle the challenges of a divided world, but it’s the actions that follow which are crucial. It will be the same in Korea after the PyeongChang Winter Games.
In major competitions, athletes come from very different countries, with cultures that may be worlds apart. Everyone has a past and their own story to tell. They don’t speak the same language. But when they perform on the sporting stage, idolised and admired by all, they have the opportunity to inspire people through their will to achieve peace on all levels: in their villages, or between countries.
Now 51, my career as a rugby player still continues to influence my everyday life and my view of society. In collective sport, one realizes very early on that success comes through team effort. We learn to handle both victory and defeat. We quickly understand that nothing is possible without work and determination. I often have the opportunity to teach these lessons to my children.
Since 2003, I’ve invested some of my time and energy into “Make has Difference” (MAD) foundation. This initiative has enabled me to give back to society everything that the people I’ve met through Rugby have brought me, via education,. It’s now my turn to serve others. I ‘ve never forgotten the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.” Nor will I ever forget them.