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Sports Bridging Cultural Gaps

Published: 02.02.2011, Updated: 04.03.2017
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When South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup many people believed that this was just another tournament. However, it was an extraordinary and significant occasion, not only for South Africa, but for the whole African continent and the rest of the world. Many warned in advance of widespread corruption, crime and the possibility of terrorist attacks.


significant, intend, stadium, accommodation, obsession, inimitable, host, frail, embrace, prejudice, enhance, convict (v), sabotage, sentence(v)



Mandela Laid the Foundation

Sports Bridging Cultural GapsNelson Mandela. Photo.Nelson Mandela
Opphavsmann: Themba Hadebe, AP Photo
 Nelson Mandela (born 18 July 1918) has always believed in sporting events to unite people. He was credited with helping South Africa win the World Cup bid in 2004. Mandela’s dream was to gradually make the world and South Africa in particular a better place to live, and he intended to use this tournament as a mechanism to unite a divided nation.

After Apartheid

During the time of the apartheid regime, South Africa was not allowed to participate in the Olympics or in any other major sports events, therefore the World Cup in rugby in South Africa in 1995 was in fact the first international sporting event after the end of apartheid. It was a huge step for this ‘new’ country to show the world they were capable of carrying through this arrangement. It was definitely a success; it even ended with South Africa beating New Zealand in the final. The trophy was awarded to them by Nelson Mandela, himself, wearing a rugby shirt and cap.

World Cup Football 2010

Being responsible for the FIFA World Cup was an even bigger challenge. New giant stadiums were being built and a huge amount of money was being spent. Since South Africa was the first African nation ever to host such a world-class event, some leaders of FIFA doubted South Africa’s ability to accomplish this. High levels of crime, unfinished stadiums and lack of accommodation and infrastructure were expected. Despite the criticism, the championship in South Africa turned out to be one of the most successful ever. The inhabitants of South Africa participated in turning this event into a great party.

The Vuvuzela

Fotograf: Bjørn S. Delebekk
What added to the atmosphere at the matches was the vuvuzela, a South African blowing horn which sounds like a thousand bees. It both became a sensation and an obsession amongst visiting fans. Despite numerous complaints from the players, this instrument was not banned from the stadiums. To quote a sports journalist from the BBC: ‘Let South Africa host the tournament in their own inimitable style!’ It was disappointing though, that the host nation (Bafana Bafana) did not qualify for the second round.

South Africa's Great Man

People in South Africa were hoping their hero, Nelson Mandela, might be able to watch the first match between South Africa and Mexico live, despite his frail health, however, that and the additional fact that his 13-year old great-granddaughter was killed in an accident just before the opening of the tournament, kept him from attending. However, his vision of sport as a means of uniting the South African people was certainly successful during the games, and hopefully the positive effects will encourage future cooperation. After the final, where Spain beat the Netherlands by 1-0 there was a roar of approval from the international media and South Africa was embraced by the whole world.

Bridging Gaps

Bringing nations together like in South Africa is likely to ease political and cultural tensions. Football players and supporters from all over the world take part in the celebrations and thus meet face to face. They enjoy a good game and experience that we all share a lot of interests and often have similar characteristics. In many cases, prejudice is based on lack of actual contact between peoples and nations. Through international events whether they involve sport, science or arts and culture we may overcome prejudice and enhance cross-cultural understanding. 

Watch Nelson Mandela comment the FIFA World Cup. Nelson Mandela's message regarding the FIFA 2010 World Cup

Some important facts

  • This tournament kicked off on June 11th, 2010.
  • June 11th has further significance in the history of South Africa. On this date in 1964 Nelson Mandela and 6 comrades were convicted of sabotage. A death sentence was expected, but instead each of them was sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • The date of the final match, July 11th, is also a historic day in the anti-apartheid struggle. On this day in 1963 the police raided a farm and made several arrests of members from the ANC, Mandela’s political party.



  1. What did the journalist from BBC mean when he said: “Let South Africa host the tournament in their own inimitable style!”?
  2. Explain the meaning of the following words: convict, sentence, imprisonment


  1. What, if any, lasting benefits from the World Cup tournament in South Africa do you think there will be
    • in South Africa
    • in the rest of the world?


“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. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair." (Mandela)

Watch this video made in connection with the World Cup in S. Korea in 2001.  Spirit of Football  What is the spirit of the video? How does this relate to Mandela’s statement?
Write an article aimed at students of your age with this video and Mandela’s statement as inspiration. Give your views on how sport can bridge cultural gaps.


Further Research

A different South Africa has certainly emerged in the wake of the World Cup.  The new infrastructure and the new stadiums are visible images of a different country. However, of no less importance is the change in South Africa’s national psyche. People are proud to be South-African and to some extent they feel united despite a divided past.


Find out more about South Africa’s World Cup Legacy.
Share your findings in an oral presentation, an article, a glogster (interactive poster) or a radio program aimed at students your age. 


Sources that can be used:




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