London – South African rugby paid tribute to the “miracle” performed by Nelson Mandela in uniting his country, partly through his embrace of the Springbok rugby team at the 1995 World Cup, after the death of the former president on Thursday.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner won over many whites when he donned the jersey of South Africa's national rugby team at the rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg's Ellis Park stadium.
“All of our lives are poorer today at the extinguishing of the great beacon of light and hope that led the way for our country through the transition to democracy,” Oregan Hoskins, President of the South African Rugby Union (Saru), said in a statement.
“Madiba 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.
“Through his extraordinarily vision, he was able to use the 1995 Rugby World Cup as an instrument to help promote nation building just one year after South Africa's historic first democratic election.
“Mr Mandela was also instrumental in retaining the Springbok as the emblem for our national team at a time when a chorus of voices advocated a change of the symbol, for various reasons. It was an act of reconciliation and generosity of spirit which no one could have expected.”
As news of Mandela's death went around the world, the first of what are likely to be many gestures of respect took place at sporting events.
A minute's silence was observed before the start of the second day of the second Ashes Test between Australia and England at Adelaide Oval and both teams wore black armbands.
Play after lunch on the fourth day of the first Test between New Zealand and West Indies in Dunedin was also delayed for a minute's silence to be observed and flags were lowered to half mast.
World soccer body Fifa ordered flags to be flown at half mast and a minute's silence to be held before the next round of international matches.
World number one golfer Tiger Woods also paid tribute to Mandela and recalled meeting the South African president in 1998.
“He invited us to his home, and it was one of the most inspiring times I've ever had in my life,” said the American.