Mandela, who died aged 95 on Thursday, trumpeted an early return to international participation, encouraged South African sporting personalities and significantly saved the Springbok emblem, putting a firm lid on a contentious debate.
His presence at key contests at which South African teams triumphed led to the concept of 'Madiba magic', a play on his clan name and the awe-inspiring effect he produced.
His African Nations Congress moved quickly to use sport to implement a nation-building policy with South Africa allowed to send a team to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and enter the 1994 soccer World Cup qualifiers, long before the change in the political system was complete.
It was also a two-way street with major international sporting bodies keen to re-incorporate South Africa back into their families.
"The International Olympic Committee wanted Mandela in their ranks, he was an icon of the world and at the opening of the Barcelona Games they treated him like a head of state," recalled Sam Ramsamy, former South African Olympic Committee president and now an IOC member.
Mandela also stepped forcefully into a bitter debate over the symbols for South African teams, surprisingly siding with his former white oppressors and allowing rugby to keep using the Springbok emblem.
Most wanted it removed as a hate symbol of the days when only whites were allowed to represent South African sport but while the national flower, the Protea, was adopted by cricket and then the country's Olympic committee, rugby continues with the Springbok as its image.
It won for Mandela deep affection across racial lines, particularly among the Afrikaner community, at the time suspicious of what a black-led future held.
"Through his extraordinarily vision, he was able to use the 1995 Rugby World Cup as an instrument to help promote nation building just one year after South Africa's historic first democratic election," South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins said on Friday.
Mandela famously wore the jersey of captain Francois Pienaar on the day the Springboks beat New Zealand to win the World Cup and a year later, was clad in the country's soccer jersey as the national side, Bafana Bafana, won the African Nations Cup.
While he was at the forefront of the country's bidding efforts that ultimately won the right to host the 2010 World Cup, Mandela also maintained a keen interest in South Africa's top sportsmen.
He once had golfer Ernie Els and his great rival Tiger Woods round for tea.
"He treated us like we were his two sons," recalled Els. "His sincerity was amazing and it really left a mark on both of us."
Cricket captain Shaun Pollock lost his job after his team bombed out of the 2003 World Cup, misreading the rules on rain-effected matches, but he received a call some days later from Mandela.
"He just called to commend me on the way I handle the situation and to see if I was alright," Pollock said.
South African Football Association have paid tribute to the late Mandela and called on the football community to "observe a moment of silence before every match they play".
"Our history as a Football Association mirrors the history of our nation. We were divided into four disparate racial groupings but were inspired by his magnanimity, his inspiration that united our nation and his example that inspired our football players on the field of play," the statement from SAFA said.
Brazil footballing legend Pele also paid tribute.
"He was my hero, my friend," Pele tweeted.
"He was my companion in the struggle for the popular cause and for world peace.
"Let us carry on his work. He was one of the most influential people in my life," the soccer legend wrote.
Blatter recalled how Mandela was feted at the football World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the first time the continent had hosted the event.
"He and I shared an unwavering belief in the extraordinary power of football to unite people in peace and friendship, and to teach basic social and educational values as a school of life.
"When he was honoured and cheered by the crowd at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium on 11 July 2010, it was as a man of the people, a man of their hearts, and it was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced," Blatter reminisced.
"For him, the World Cup in South Africa truly was 'a dream come true'," he said.
He added: "Nelson Mandela will stay in our hearts forever. The memories of his remarkable fight against oppression, his incredible charisma and his positive values will live on in us and with us."
Fifa said that the flags of its 209 member associations will fly at half-mast at its Swiss headquarters.
A moment of silence will be held before the next round of international matches.