ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 06: England observe a minutes silence in memory of former South African President Nelson Mandela ahead of day two of the Second Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at Adelaide Oval on December 6, 2013 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Muhammad Ali paid heartfelt tribute and Ashes cricketers donned black armbands Friday as the sports world united in respect and mourning after the death of Nelson Mandela.

Heavyweight boxing legend Ali said Mandela “taught us forgiveness on a grand scale” as athletes and officials from Australia to Brazil expressed their sadness.

Fifa chief Sepp Blatter called Mandela “one of the greatest humanists of our time” and Tiger Woods said he had been inspired by South Africa's anti-apartheid hero.

Australia and England held a minute's silence before play in the second Ashes cricket Test in Adelaide, a scene replicated by New Zealand and West Indies in Dunedin.

Ali, in a statement from the Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, paid tribute to South Africa's first black president, who led the country peacefully out of apartheid rule after spending nearly three decades in prison.

“He made us realise, we are our brother's keeper and that our brothers come in all colours,” said Ali, a towering figure in America's civil rights movement.

“What I will remember most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge.

“He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale.”

Blatter, who is attending the 2014 World Cup draw in Brazil, said he and Mandela had “shared an unwavering belief in the extraordinary power of football (and sport generally) to unite people in peace and friendship”.

Woods, the world's number one golfer, recalled having lunch with Mandela in 1998, the year after his first Masters triumph.

“It was one of the most inspiring times I've ever had in my life,” said Woods. “I don't think any of us probably here could have survived that and come out as humble and as dignified as he did.”

South African golf great Gary Player called Mandela “our beloved Father of the South African nation”.

“Madiba we loved you,” he added, using Mandela's clan name.

New Zealand's rugby players have long acknowledged the impact of Mandela, who inspired South Africa to victory over the All Blacks in the 1995 World Cup final.

Mandela appeared at the final in Johannesburg wearing a Springboks jersey -- a stark symbol of white South Africa -- and welcomed his players in an act that electrified the stadium.

“It felt like the pressure was all on us because they had Nelson Mandela on their side,” recalled giant wing Jonah Lomu, the player of the tournament.

“New Zealand Rugby has enormous respect for Mr Mandela and his incredible contribution to his country and people. Today we share in his nation's sadness,” New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said on Friday.

“We have lost a champion for our game, a leader whose inspiration ensured the Rugby World Cup in 1995 was a remarkable time for our sport and whose influence on sport has been far-reaching,” he added.

Football superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham sent tributes, while Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton posted a picture of himself with Mandela on his Facebook page.

“One of the most special moments in my life was meeting the great Madiba,” Hamilton said. “One of the most inspirational human beings to have lived and without doubt the nicest man I ever met.”