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Sporting world pays tribute to Mandela

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Fifa president Sepp Blatter has led the sporting tributes to his "dear friend", South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela, who has died aged 95.

Mr Mandela had used sport to bring his country together following strict racial segregation by his predecessors.

Blatter said: "It is in deep mourning that I pay my respects to an extraordinary person.

"He and I shared an unwavering belief in the extraordinary power of football to unite people."

Nelson Mandela: Key dates

  • 1918 Born in the Eastern Cape
  • 1943 Joins African National Congress
  • 1956 Charged with high treason but charges dropped
  • 1962 Arrested, convicted of sabotage, sentenced to five years in prison
  • 1964 Charged again, sentenced to life
  • 1990 Freed from prison
  • 1993 Wins Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1994 Elected first black president
  • 1999 Steps down as leader
  • 2004 Retires from public life

BBC History: Mandela's defiant freedom speech

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Blatter added: "He was probably one of the greatest humanists of our time."

Mr Mandela once stated: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people, in a way that little else does."

Fifa's president hailed Mr Mandela's impact on football's 2010 World Cup in South Africa and said there would be a minute's silence as a mark of respect ahead of the next round of international matches.

"When he was honoured and cheered by the crowd at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium on 11 July 2010, it was as a man of the people, a man of their hearts.

"It was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced. For him, the World Cup in South Africa truly was 'a dream come true'," Blatter added.

After he was elected as president in 1994, the 1995 Rugby World Cup was to be the showcase event for Mr Mandela's unifying agenda in South Africa.

One of the defining sporting images of the century was to follow in the final when, after South Africa's 15-12 extra-time victory against favourites New Zealand, Springboks captain Francois Pienaar was handed the trophy by Mr Mandela.

In that moment, racially divided South Africa came together in a way unimaginable during the 27 years the Nobel Peace Prize winner was incarcerated for his actions in the fight against apartheid.

South Africa rugby tweeted: "Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela. We will never forget the role you played in our country, in our sport, and for that we are eternally grateful."

Joost van der Westhuizen, who played in the 1995 World Cup final, said on Twitter: "A sad day for our country. Rest in Peace Madiba. Condolences to his family and friends."

Former captain of the South Africa football team and Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar, 31, also paid tribute, tweeting: "In tears, the Father Of the Great Nation has passed on. R.I.P TATA MADIBA."

South Africa rugby union wing Bryan Habana, 30, who was part of his country's triumphant side that beat England in the 2007 Rugby World Cup final, tweeted: "R.I.P Tata Madiba. Thank you for the inspiration and hope. May your legacy live on forever. #forevergrateful #proudlySouthAfrican."

Cricket South Africa used their official Twitter account to say: "RIP Tata Mandela. It is because of you that a represented Proteas team can express their talent across the globe #Mandela."

In Adelaide, just hours after the news of Mr Mandela's death was announced, a minute's silence was observed before the start of play on day two of the second Ashes Test between Australia and England.

Both sets of players wore black armbands in tribute to Mr Mandela.

Meanwhile, British Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton said in a Facebook statement: "One of the most special moments in my life was meeting the great Madiba.

"One of the most inspirational human beings to have lived & without doubt the nicest man I ever met. I will miss you, we will miss you Madiba. God rest your soul, I love you like a son loves a father. Rest in Peace. Lewis & Family xxx."

Six-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt also paid his respects: "One of the greatest human beings ever..May your soul rest in peace..The world's greatest fighter..."

Speaking in 2003 about the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, former South Africa captain Pienaar, now 46, told BBC Sport: "What happened was Nelson Mandela said, 'thank you very much for what you've done for South Africa', but I said, 'thank you for what you've done'.

"I almost felt like hugging him but it wasn't appropriate, I guess."

-- Courtesy of BBC Sport

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