By Angus MacSwan
NEWCASTLE, England (Reuters) – Late South African President Nelson Mandela, who brought white and black South Africans together through rugby after the end of apartheid, was posthumously inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks team that won the World Cup on home soil in 1995 and who worked closely with Mandela, received the Hall of Fame cap in a special ceremony on the pitch before the start of South Africa’s match against Scotland at St. James’ Park, Newcastle.
In the apartheid years, rugby union was the favoured sport of the white minority and seen by many blacks as a symbol of racial segregation. Mandela, who won South Africa’s first all-race election in 1994 after a lifetime of struggle, sought to heal the wounds by embracing rugby as a national sport.
He famously appeared at the World Cup final at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, on June 24, 1995, in a green Springboks jersey and cap. After the South Africa team beat New Zealand, he presented the trophy to Pienaar on the pitch in what is widely seen as a defining moment in South Africa’s modern history.
World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset, presenting the cap to Pienaar and South Africa’s Deputy Sports Minister Gert Oosthuizen, said it was a fitting tribute to a man who did so much for his country and for rugby union.
“He was instrumental in turning Rugby World Cup 1995 into a momentous occasion that united the South African nation through the power of sport,” he said.
“By supporting the Springboks so passionately and publicly on their way to victory, Mandela helped to change attitudes, soften hearts and convince minds of the right course of history for his country to take and, in the process, became a wonderful example to us all.”
South African Rugby Union President and World Rugby Vice-Chairman Oregan Hoskins said: “Madiba (Mandela’s clan name) was a great man of vision, determination and integrity, who performed a miracle that amazed the world as much as it amazed his fellow countrymen.
“His name will rank among the greatest humanitarians and this induction reflects rugby’s everlasting friendship and appreciation for a great man.”
Nobel Peace Prize winner Mandela, who died in 2013 at the age of 95, joins Pienaar and other greats of the game in the Hall of Fame.
It was launched in 2006 with the induction of William Webb Ellis, who as a pupil at Rugby School in England picked up the ball and ran with it during a soccer match in 1823 to found the sport of rugby.
Other members of the Hall of Fame include former Wales scrumhalf Gareth Edwards, ex-Ireland captain Willie John McBride, former England skipper Martin Johnson and New Zealander Colin Meads.
(Additional reporting by Ed Osmond; Editing by David Goodman)