When South Africa’s former president and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela breathed his last on Thursday, he bid adieu not as a political leader but as a national captain. For a moment I was puzzled by the developments. However, when I researched on his great achievements as a leader, I got the answer.
The late South African leader was a firm believer of the Gandhian philosophy. While the Mahatma wanted to eradicate unsociability from India, and used several means to achieve it, Mandela believed that sports is one strong medium to bring together the blacks and whites in South Africa.
Touched by the poverty he came across during Bharat Darshan, Gandhiji left his luxurious life to live like a commoner. Similarly, Mandela was taken aback when he saw black South Africans cheering against the home team in a Springbok’s Rugby Union match just because the team had white players. When he took over ‘captaincy’ of South Africa in 1994, Mandela was well aware of the enormous challenges he would have to face in the post-apartheid era. But the racial divisions between the black and white concerned the president the most.
It wasn’t easy to break the ice between the ‘black’ and ‘white’ South Africans. They had hated each other for years. But Mandela knew that both the communities understood and were passionate about sports. It was one bond that could bridge the gap. In the following year, 1995, South Africa were to host the Rugby World Cup.
Mandela saw an extraordinary opportunity in it. He left no stone unturned to back the mega event.
He took personal interest, kept a tab of all the developments. He convinced the black community to support the first major sporting event in South Africa following the end of apartheid and also the first World Cup in which South African were allowed to compete. Then he met the Springboks team captain and made him understand how important the World Cup title would be for their country. And François Pienaar and Co didn’t disappoint. They beat New Zealand 15-12 in the nail-biting final.
When Mandela presented the Webb Ellis Cup to Pienaar, the nation went into raptures. There was pure joy with no differentiation between black and white; they enjoyed the victory with various colours. That was the turning point for South Africa.
Fifteen years later, carrying on Mandela’s legacy, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma successfully hosted the prestigious Fifa World Cup in 2010, and of course they hosted the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007.
One of the news reports quoted an Indian settled in South Africa saying, “There was a time during apartheid when white people and black people could not play sports at the same place, but now it is possible.” Not just in rugby but South Africans have been doing well in cricket, football, tennis and even athletics.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi seems to be adopting a philosophy similar to Mandela’s.
With Khel Maha Kumbh, the CM is trying to inculcate sports culture and simultaneously bridge the rural-urban gap. The state government claims that 38 lakh participants have registered for various events. The only difference is that unlike Mandela, Mr Modi hasn’t taken personal interest.
Mandela’s sports policy had a purpose — to unite the nation, to defeat the demon named hatred within them. The policy also provided security in every sense, be it financial or medical. That purpose seems to be missing from Modi’s Khel Maha Kumbh.
When I visited various venues of the sports carnival around the city, of course for reality check by keeping my identity hidden, I came across people who were enthusiastic and genuinely concerned about sports coaches and groundsmen. But sportspersons were missing. During a hockey match, a boy suffered an injury, but there was no first aid available. Fortunately, the supervisor was smart enough to call 108 Emergency services and the boy survived with stitches.
At one venue, a full day was reserved for three sports competitions. But everything was over within two hours. Why? Because only one team turned up for each event. They got a walkover, and were declared champions!
The state government’s figure of 38 lakh participants stands void. Why so? I realised that something was missing - a lakshya (purpose). If at all there was any purpose, it was the state government’s stunt to augment its popularity and not what it claims ‘Health’ in the advertisement.
Else how could schools ‘dare’ to allow their students to bunk state government-organised sports carnival. If Mr Modi takes personal interest and mobilises the resources, just like Mandela did, Gujarat can certainly become a sports hub one day. Waiting for that moment!