Rugby leaders from around the world have paid tribute to former President Nelson Mandela, who passed away in Johannesburg aged 95. It was in 1995 that he played a large role in uniting a divided South Africa around the Rugby World Cup.
In 1990 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was released from prison after having spent 27 years in captivity for his efforts in changing the way that the white ruled country was run. Just four years later, aged 75, he was elected President following a democratic election in a rapidly changing country.
A year later, with South Africa having been awarded the rights to host the first ever Rugby World Cup that the Springboks would compete in, Mandela played his part in uniting the new Rainbow Nation behind a sports team that traditionally favoured only white players. One Team, One Country.
His role, from before the tournament to the victorious final against the All Blacks, has become a thing of legend, and his relationship with then captain Francois Pienaar something quite unique.
“Francois, thank you very much for what you have done for our country,” Mandela said to victorious Pienaar as he stood holding the Webb Ellis trophy at a packed Ellis Park.
“No, Mr. President. Thank you for what you have done for our country,” Pienaar replied.
Current Springbok captain Jean De Villiers spoke of the impact he has had on the country.
“My lasting memory of Madiba is that of a person who had enormous ability to bring people together. His presence at a Test Match just lifted the crowd and energised the team – it is actually hard to describe.
“Of course, as a sportsman I am so grateful for him for what he did for our country. He inspired South Africans, who for so long were very divided, to peacefully build a united Rainbow Nation.”
South African Rugby Union President Oregan Hoskins echoed the thoughts of all South Africans.
“His name will rank among that of the greatest liberators and humanitarians for as long as mankind walks the earth. It was our privilege to have lived in this country during his lifetime.”
NZ Rugby CEO Steve Tew said the sport had lost ‘a champion of our game’. “New Zealand Rugby has enormous respect for Mr Mandela and his incredible contribution to his country and people.
“We have lost a champion for our game, a leader whose inspiration ensured Rugby World Cup in 1995 was a remarkable time for our sport and whose influence on sport has been far-reaching.
“His presentation of the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar after South Africa overcame the All Blacks in the Final is a moment that few New Zealanders will ever forget,” he said.
Mandela was a boxer, but his belief in the power of sport led to him becoming somewhat of a mascot for both the South African rugby and cricket teams. Below is a short tribute, with words from the great man himself. Rest in Peace, Tata Madiba.