When South Africa emerged from 21 years of international isolation in 1991, what followed was an extraordinary sporting success story.

South African trainer Mike de Kock (left) says it is not too late for him to leave his mark on Australian racing as his son Mat (right) continues to make inroads in Melbourne. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

The end of apartheid and release of Nelson Mandela had prompted a rapid period of change for the country reimagined as the rainbow nation. Sporting success sat at the heart of that change.

Within 12 months, South Africa had made a Cricket World Cup semi-final, and were only undone against England by the Sydney rain and Duckworth-Lewis.

In 1995, South Africa hosted and won the Rugby World Cup, with Mandela himself presenting the trophy at Ellis Park in a Springboks jersey. Also in the 1990s, South African Ernie Els would reach the pinnacle in golf, winning two US Opens, while swimmer Penny Heyns and marathon runner Josia Thugwane would claim Olympic gold in 1996.

The circumstances and the context surrounding the European Union recently lifting the export ban on thoroughbreds after 13 years is different to South Africa’s post-apartheid era sporting renaissance, but that burst of comeback success can offer some encouragement to those in the racing game.

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