I am not a great film fan, in fact I hardly ever watch films at home or even on long haul flights when you have plenty of time to pass in the air.

On a recent flight, however, I was engrossed watching ‘Invictus’, the story of the South African victory in the Rugby World Cup in 1995.

This was both a sporting odyssey and a political journey.

In the new era of the rainbow South African nation the victory of the Springboks against the strong favourites New Zealand was a major step in the consolidation of the different races in the country.

The basic story is that in the World Cup Final, held at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on 24 June 1995, South Africa, defeated New Zealand 15 – 12, against all the odds, with Joel Stransky  scoring a drop goal in extra time to win the match.

Before that however, both Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar , the South African captain had met and agreed on the importance of South African success at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Morgan Freedman played the role of Nelson Mandella and Matt Damos played the part of Francois Pienaar, the South African captain.

Mandella quoted the poem Invictus, written by the English poet William Ernest Henley in 1875

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

This inspirational challenge set the tone for the South African team, trying to come to terms with a multi-racial post apartheid era where divisions among the races were still a major problem.

Rugby was the white man’s sport while football was the black man’s sport.

Success in the Rugby World Cup, however, united a divided nation with long term effects.

The Mandela Magic worked.

Following South Africa’s victory, Nelson Mandela, the President of South Africa, wearing a Springbok rugby shirt and cap, presented the Webb Ellis Cup to the South African captain Francois Pienaar.

Mandela and Pienaar’s involvement in the World Cup was detailed in the film produced in 2009 and explains the importance of sport in creating a national identity and creating a unified nation state.

It may have been ‘sexed up’ in parts but the simple message is that sport, and especially sporting success, has a strong influence on a nation.

I am sure ‘film aficionados’ will find all sorts of reasons to criticise the film, as they do with most sports films – Escape to Victory comes to mind – but it is a powerful demonstration of the power of sport.

We must never underestimate the power which sport has to address the problems of the modern world.

Forget about the success of Spain in South Africa 2010 or the failures of England, Italy, Brazil or Argentina.

These are in a minor league compared to Mandela’s concept of uniting a divided nation through sporting success in South Africa 15 years ago.

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