Boxing great Muhammad Ali saluted the legacy of Nelson Mandela, saying the revered icon of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle “taught us forgiveness on a grand scale.”
Ali’s was just one of the tributes that poured in from the world of sport in the wake of Mandela’s death at the age of 95.
Ali, the former heavyweight world champion who himself became a beloved civil rights campaigner, said he was “deeply saddened” by Mandela’s death.
“His was a life filled with purpose and hope; hope for himself, his country and the world,” Ali said. “He inspired others to reach for what appeared to be impossible and moved them to break through the barriers that held them hostage mentally, physically, socially and economically. He made us realize, we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colors.”
“What I will remember most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge. He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free.”
World football chief Sepp Blatter, in Brazil on the eve of the draw for the 2014 World Cup, called Mandela “one of the greatest humanists of our time and a dear friend of mine.”
Blatter paid warm personal tribute to Mandela, who famously embraced South Africa’s predominantly white rugby team after they won the 1995 World Cup on home soil in a poignant moment of racial reconciliation.
“He and I shared an unwavering belief in the extraordinary power of football (and sport generally) to unite people in peace and friendship, and to teach basic social and educational values as a school of life,” said Blatter.
Golf great Tiger Woods recalled meeting Mandela in 1998, the year after his first Masters triumph.
Woods was playing a tournament in South Africa, and he and his father, Earl, were invited to lunch at Mandela’s home.
“It was one of the most inspiring times I’ve ever had in my life,” said Woods, who also marveled at Mandela’s capacity for forgiveness and ability to forge reconciliation after two decades in prison.
“I don’t think any of us probably here could have survived that and come out as humble and as dignified as he did. To lead an entire nation and to basically love the world when he came out, I think that’s a testament to his will and his spirit and who he was.”
Another golf great, South Africa’s own Gary Player, tweeted his respects.
“Condolences to all on the passing of our beloved Father of the South African Nation, Nelson Mandela. Madiba we loved you. Rest in Peace,” Player said on Twitter.
Portugal football captain Cristiano Ronaldo posted a picture on his Facebook page of himself with Mandela, taken at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
“Thankyou Madiba for your legacy and your example,” he wrote. “You’ll always stay with us.”
“We have lost a true gentleman and a courageous human being. It was truly an honor to have known a man who had genuine love for so many people,” said former England football captain David Beckham.