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Müller: Mandela Embodied Spirit of Fair Play to Earn 1997 Award


The International Committee for Fair Play presents every year its highest distinction–the Pierre de Coubertin Fair Play Award–to an outstanding athlete or personality who by his or her exceptional behavior serves an example to the world.

We are convinced that fair play is one of the fundamental questions that will affect not only the future of sport, but also future relations between cultures and mankind in general.

Fair play is increasingly recognized and understood as the only acceptable ethical norm that brings together athletes of all continents and all races.

But fair play supposes a fundamental moral attitude. In order to really promote the realization of fair play, general appeals are insufficient–these must be followed by actions.

Nelson Mandela and Norbert Müller at the award ceremony of the International Fairplay Award in 1997 in Pretoria, South Africa.

On behalf of the International Committee for Fair Play, I have the honor of presenting today the highest international distinction for fair play to a man who according to our criteria has set a truly extraordinary and extremely impressive example of the spirit of fair play for the youth of all countries–to you, esteemed President Nelson Mandela.

You have throughout your life, and in the most convincing manner, embodied the spiritual foundations of the ideal of fair play. Through your personal convictions and your unfailing dedication you have given the world and especially its youth a rare example of this ideal, an example that we can only hope will be emulated.

You are explaining in your book, “Long Walk to Freedom,” how much your own experiences as an athlete served as a decisive help and guide. It is very important, Mr. President, that you expressed this so clearly.

On the one hand, the lack of individual participation in sports today is a source of decay in modern societies. Much more profound still is the loss of personal experience so important for the maturation of one’s personality, and which so many young people nowadays are unable to attain. Fair play cannot develop as a personal quality without this kind of direct involvement.

Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Movement, rightly emphasized on many occasions that participation in sports is the foundation of man’s moral strength, and this, Mr. President, you have experienced in your own long life.

Another great statesman and Nobel laureate for Peace, the American President Theodore Roosevelt, also recorded in writing 90 years earlier a similar personal experience. He and Coubertin joined together in a lifelong friendship.

You were in your youth, esteemed President Nelson Mandela, a successful boxer, you also played football, and competed in cross-country races. You steeled your body and soul through those precious lessons for a hard, lifelong battle, and you managed to overcome many hardships through fair play, which is why we honor you today.

You have personally suffered from illness, humiliation, and injury in your 27 years of imprisonment, but you have sublimated this into a feeling of brotherhood and reconciliation between the black and white population of your great country, South Africa. You have applied your sense of fair play acquired in sport to the political life of South Africa, and you have emerged as a legitimate–and especially as a fair–spokesman for your continent in many difficult missions.

If violence is the burden of our times, fair play is a basic need and perhaps even the key to solving the problem of violence, as our late President, the honorable Willi Daume, once said.

When for the first time after decades of absence a racially mixed team entered the Olympic arena of Barcelona in 1992, you, Mr. President, who had played an essential role in this normalization process, were present in person to attend that event. The Olympic ideal with its quest for peace became durably strengthened and credible through your personal involvement.

This was without any doubt an extraordinary act of fair play in the most profound sense of the term, and your efforts have been acknowledged as such all over the world.

The International Committee for Fair Play thus honors today Mr. Nelson Mandela as an exceptional example of a personality who has applied the principles of fair play to public life, principles which are the foundation not only of sport but also of all social engagements in which the dignity and worth of each and every person is respected.

Editor’s Note:  This is a copy of the speech given by Dr. Norbert Müller in honor of the late South African President Nelson Mandela when he earned the International Fair Play Trophy on June 25, 1997 in Pretoria, South Africa. Müller calls is “the most impressive day of my life” to be alongside him for hours. Dr.  Müller, who received an Academy Honorary Doctorate in November, is  professor emeritus at Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz and has benn the president of the International Pierre de Coubertin Committee since 2002.



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