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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Three events that illustrate how sport can change the world

In Australia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, sport shows its transformative force over the course of one very special Sunday

Spectators at Gaddafi cricket in Lahore on Sunday. EPA
Spectators at Gaddafi cricket in Lahore on Sunday. EPA

“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.” The late Nelson Mandela delivered those words in a keynote address at the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards. They remain as well-observed and as powerful today as they were when first uttered 17 years ago.

On Sunday, Lebanon stunned the rugby community when their national side, ranked 18 in the world, outplayed and outscored France, ranked six in the world, by 29-18 at the Rugby League World Cup in Australia.

Later that day, more than 10,000 kilometres away, Pakistan’s cricket side beat their Sri Lankan counterparts in the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, to round off a T20 series victory. The match marked another step forward on the road to rehabilitation for Pakistan’s international cricket, who have played the vast majority of their “home” matches in the UAE since an attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in March 2009.

A further 4,000 kilometres away, in Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious programme of reforms continued on Sunday with the announcement that three sports facilities in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam will “accommodate families” from next year. The stadiums are currently male-only venues.

Mandela’s words bind all three events together. A single match in Canberra will, almost certainly, inspire the next generation of rugby players in Lebanon. A triumphant return by Pakistan’s cricket will unite the nation in a way the country’s politicians never can. Prince Mohammed’s latest decree is part of a broader programme that speaks directly to the aspirations of young people in a language they comprehend. Sport has the power to change the world, Mandela said. In Canberra, Lahore and the kingdom, it showed its mighty and transformative nature on Sunday.