South African teams play to honour Mandela

GERALD IMRAY
Last updated 01:50 03/07/2013

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South Africa's national football and rugby teams will play on the same day at the former World Cup showpiece stadium in Soweto to honour Nelson Mandela, bringing together the country's two most popular sports that once portrayed its racial divisions.

The South African sports ministry said today that the Nelson Mandela Sports Day on August 17 at FNB Stadium - formerly Soccer City - was aimed at uniting the country and the world "in celebration and promotion" of the anti-apartheid leader's legacy.

While calling it a celebration, the ministry also noted the somber mood in South Africa, with its inspiring former president, now 94, still critically ill in the hospital.

"The launch happens at a time when South Africa is a nation in distress following the hospitalization our father and icon Nelson Mandela, who also happens to be the primary inspiration behind this initiative," the ministry said.

On the day, South Africa's football team will face Burkina Faso in a friendly and the Springboks will start their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina, both at the 94,000-seat FNB Stadium on the outskirts of Soweto, a site which also holds significance for sport and for Mandela.

The old FNB was where Mandela made his first speech in Johannesburg and held his first major rally after his release from prison in 1990. Soccer City was where Mandela made his last public appearance at the 2010 football World Cup final, the first time the tournament was held in Africa.

South Africa's first democratically elected president has strong ties to sport, having famously supported the rugby team when it won the World Cup in 1995, and then the football team a year later when it lifted the African Cup of Nations trophy at the FNB.

Rugby and football were previously examples of South Africa's racial segregation, with rugby followed by whites and football by blacks until Mandela's act of reconciliation and unity at the '95 Rugby World Cup.

The August 17 sports day also will have a music concert and another football game between former South African and Italian internationals. South Africa's continental champion netball team and leading Springboks try-scorer Bryan Habana will be recognised, the sports ministry said.

South Africa's minister of sport and minister of arts and culture will visit Mandela's foundation offices in Johannesburg today to deliver messages of support for the ailing former president, they said.

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- AP

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