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Desmond Tutu: Where, how and why sport makes a difference

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The greatest star to touch British sport with his insight, perception, understanding and human wisdom this past week was not a player or a direction or a manager or an agent. It was Desmond Tutu.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winner may have retired formally and now be the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town but he has not retired from a role as a pastor to the worldwide community. That factor was electrifyingly obvious during the half hour he spent in conversation with Michael Parkinson at the Beyond Sport conference in London.

The constructive value of such gatherings of the "suits" of politics, sport and business may be open to question; but if those who heard Tutu took away only his inspiration then they will remain the richer for it.

Parkinson, interviewer emeritus in his own right as well as president of the UK Sports Journalists Association, had no difficulty providing prompts on issues ranging from the relationship between politics and religion, the anti-apartheid movement, the healing of damaged nations and the 2010 World Cup and its wider value.

Continental message


Tutu said: "What was significant was was not only that we won the bid but that we won the bid to become the first African country to host the World Cup.

"So, most important, we are not saying this is a South African hosting but this is for the entire continent. What that does for the morale and self-esteem of people is difficult to compute but it’s the same as when you consider Nelson Mandela and see how the world looks up to him, by proxy you grow two inches.

"Then there are the economic benefits which will accrue as a result. We saw a little of this with all the people who came to accompany the British Lions rugby team [in South Africa] last month. There must have been 50,000 who were going around with them; multiply that several times over for the people who will follow their national soccer teams next year and that will really do something.

"Also, to qualify to be hosts we had to commit ourselves to the building of new stadiums and the infrastucture – the positive effects [of creating this] will be felt for many a long year after that."

Tutu hailed the mark of 7.5 out of 10 offered by FIFA president Sepp Blatter for preparations after the recent Confederations Cup rehearsal as "close to a distinction."

Crowd favourite

He also drew a positive message from the manner of home fans’ support for the national side Bafana Bafana.

Using the example of defender Mark Booth, he said: "The Boys have this one player who is white, Booth, and each time he touches the ball people who don’t know think the fans are booing him because they don’t understand what the 'Boooo' is all about.

"In fact, it means he’s one of the crowd’s favourites and that huge crowd is largely black - which means these people are trying to give the world the impression that whites are not so bad - they love him, he’s a fantastic player.

"Also, it’s got significance. It’s helping us to gel."

Tutu acknowledged the manner in which the worldwide anti-apartheid movement had used sport as a weapon to help bring down the white supremacist system; also how Nelson Mandela had then used the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a means to bring all South Africans together behind a symbol of newly-reborn statehood.

He said: "We owe a lot to the international community because the anti-apartheid movement grabbed the imagination of the entire world.

"We were prayed for in many, many places and thank you that you did and were part of the anti-apartheid movement. After all, you gave the world the gift of Nelson Mandela; if apartheid had won you would never have known that you can have such magnanimity, such nobility of spirit, as his."

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