Published on December 7th, 2013 | by Staples Soccer


Mark Noonan ’83 Remembers Nelson Mandela

As founder and president of FocalSport, the Southport-based sports and entertainment marketing company, Mark Noonan ’83 works with clients like Major League Soccer, Real Salt Lake, the New York Mets and FIBA (the world governing body of basketball).

But several years ago, while at US Soccer, the 1986 Duke University College Cup champion (and current Top of the Hill Team board member) traveled to South Africa. US Soccer”s executive team was invited by their counterparts to visit and exchange best practices, as South Africa sought to win the right to host the FIFA World Cup.

In Cape Town their hosts gave Noonan’s group a private tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27  years.

This weekend, Noonan vividly pictures the cell Mandela was forced to live in. “How a man could endure such injustice without breaking, losing his dignity, or developing a deep bitterness for so long was, and is, truly humbling,” Noonan says.

He also recalls “the attitude of the people I met toward race, especially when juxtaposed against the very real tensions that were prevalent in our country at the time (and sadly still exist today).”

Whether speaking with a black, white, Indian or mixed race person — and across varying economic backgrounds — the prevailing attitude was “we are now one and it is good. What was done in the past has been forgiven. We now live in a harmonious new South Africa,” Noonan says.

Importantly, he adds, “I didn’t get the sense that this was being said just to be politically correct with their American guests. It was real. There was not just pride in how they described their country, but also an ease and a really warm contentment. Like the movement’s leader, it lacked any kind of bitterness or hatred.

“I was simply awestruck how Mandela could have such a profound affect on the psyche of the nation, given our country’s long struggle with our own race issues.”

Nelson Mandela, with the World Cup trophy.

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