Address by President Nelson Mandela at opening of 36th Annual World Boxing Council (WBC) Convention, Johannesburg

26 October 1998

President Jose Sulaiman, Distinguished delegates to the 36th Annual World Boxing Council convention, I welcome you all to our beloved country.

Perhaps the next best thing to being a world boxing champion, which I never achieved, is to have the privilege of opening a prestigious annual boxing convention. I thank you for inviting me to do so.

I am confident that your hosts, the South African National Boxing Control Commission, will go all out to make your stay here, as memorable as possible. Delegates should however be forewarned that South Africans are well known for their hospitality, and you may need to exercise all the discipline of athletes to keep to your principal mission of attending to the business of the WBC!

We are especially pleased and proud to welcome you here in the fifth year of our freedom. It gives us a chance to acknowledge the WBC's role, in adding strength to the struggle for liberation by bringing the considerable force of the council and its boxers to the world campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.

As true friends, with the maturing of our transition to democracy your solidarity in struggle transformed itself into partnership for development. The $100 000 that the WBC has earmarked for two gymnasiums in this country, and which are to be inaugurated at this convention, gives generous and practical content to your commitment.

For these reasons, I felt that in spite of my busy schedule, I needed to be present on the WBC's first visit to this country, so that we could say, on behalf of all South Africans: for your contribution to the ending of apartheid; and for your engagement in the reconstruction of our society, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

We also appreciate your decision to hold your annual convention in South Africa. It helps confirm our acceptance in the international sporting community; it will give a lift to the profile of sport in South Africa and to boxing in particular; and it gives a welcome boost to tourism, an industry which we regard as of strategic importance to our future.

I have often wondered whether we will ever return to the days when the term "world champion" meant just that, and was not dependent for its significance on what boxing controlling body one was talking about. While some do claim that there are benefits that accrue from the proliferation of controlling bodies, it is difficult to see how these can outweigh the dilution of the credibility of titles. It is encouraging to know that the WBC has started the process of unifying its rules with those of the WBA.

In the meantime, I do look forward to the day when we will host the first WBC championship fight here. I have been following with interest, the speculation in the media about the possibility of a Heavyweight Championship taking place on our shores. South Africa's private sector has made many things possible through its generous support for sport, and it would be wonderful indeed if that could happen in this case too.

Sport in general, and international contests in particular, have been asking an exceptionally important contribution to the building of our new nation. Our sports men and women are proving outstanding ambassadors for our new democracy and inspiring role-models for the youth of South Africa.

Boxing is one of those socially influential sporting codes in our country.

We are therefore encouraged by the safety consciousness that seems to pervade the WBC family. Any new death in the ring will only detract from the character-building role that boxing plays in society. In its finest form, boxing is an art, a huge spectator interest activity and in many cases a ticket out of poverty.

May I in conclusion invite the WBC to be vocal in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and to continue using the sport as a tool for uplifting all the downtrodden of the world.

It is a singular honour and privilege for me, President Sulaiman and delegates, to declare the 36th Annual WBC Convention open.

Issued by the Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website