FIFA has ordered flags to fly at half-staff at all 209 member association as a show of respect for former South African President NELSON MANDELA, who died at his Johannesburg home on Thursday at 95. FIFA President SEPP BLATTER called Mandela "an extraordinary person," and "probably one of the greatest humanists of our time and a dear friend of mine." Blatter: "He and I shared an unwavering belief in the extraordinary power of football to unite people in peach and friendship, and to teach basic social and educational values as a school of life. ... Nelson Mandela will stay in our hearts forever. The memories of his remarkable fight against oppression, his incredible cfharisma and his positive values will live on in us and with us" (FIFA). ... REUTERS' Cropley & Fletcher wrote Mandela's "last major appearance on the global stage" was in '10 at the championship match of the World Cup, where "he received a thunderous ovation" from the 90,000 at the stadium in Soweto, "the neighborhood in which he cut his teeth as a resistance leader" (REUTERS, 12/5). The BBC wrote that South African cricket player AB DE VILLIERS tweeted, "Let us now, more than ever, stick together as a nation! We owe him that much. #Mabida you will be missed! (BBC, 12/5).
USED SPORTS TO FURTHER CAUSE: CNN's Faith Karimi wrote that Mandela used sports to help in "South Africa's fight for reconcilliation" in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg against heavily favored New Zealand, which was captured in CLINT EASTWOOD's film "Invictus." Rugby was the sport of the white Afrikaners and was "reviled by blacks" in the country. Before the game, Mandela walked onto the pitch, wearing a green-and-gold South African jersey bearing white team captain FRANCOIS PIENAAR's number on the back. Mandela body guard RORY STEYN said, "I will never forget the goosebumps that stood on my arms when he walked out onto the pitch before the game started. That crowd, which was almost exclusively white ... started to chant his name. That one act of putting on a No. 6 jersey did more than any other statement in bringing white South Africans and Afrikaners on side with new South Africa" (CNN, 12/5).
SPORTS WORLD REACTS:
NBA Commissioner DAVID STERN: "Nelson Mandela was one of the most powerful and inspirational leaders in the world and a great friend of the NBA. He led his nation to democracy at incredible personal sacrifice, and in rebuilding it he know how to harness the power of sport to inspire and unite people of all backgrounds."
Former NBA player DIKEMBE MUTOMBO: "I thank God for giving me a chance to meet a great Leader and man of Faith. Miss you Madiba."
Golfer GARY PLAYER: "Condolences to all on the passing of our beloved Father of the South African Nation, Nelson Mandela. Madiba we loved you. Rest in Peace."
PELE: "He was my hero, my friend, and also a companion to me in our fight for the people and for world peace."
CRISTIANO RONALDO: "Thankful Madiba for your legacy and your example. You'll always stay with us."
Broadcaster GARY LINEKER: "The greatest man on the planet has died. RIP Nelson Mandela."