Soccer, rugby teams play on same day for Mandela
JOHANNESBURG -- South Africa's national soccer and rugby teams will play on the same day at the former World Cup showpiece stadium in Soweto to honor Nelson Mandela, bringing together the country's two most popular sports that once portrayed its racial divisions.
The South African sports ministry said Tuesday that the Nelson Mandela Sports Day on Aug. 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 soccer team will face Burkina Faso in an exhibition match 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 World Cup final, the first time soccer's biggest 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 soccer team a year later when it lifted the African Cup of Nations trophy at the FNB.
Rugby and soccer were previously examples of South Africa's racial segregation, with rugby followed by whites and soccer by blacks until Mandela's act of reconciliation and unity at the `95 Rugby World Cup.
The Aug. 17 sports day also will have a music concert and another soccer game between former South African and Italian internationals. South Africa's continental champion netball team and leading Springboks try-scorer Bryan Habana will be recognized, the sports ministry said.
South Africa's minister of sport and minister of arts and culture will visit Mandela's foundation offices in Johannesburg on Wednesday to deliver messages of support for the ailing former president, they said.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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