London – English Premier League side Sunderland are to become a “legacy advocate” for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the northeast club announced Thursday.
The partnership, which Sunderland said was a “first for world football”, will see the club helping to promote the former South Africa president's “legacy of social justice outside the purely political arena following his retirement”.
Sunderland also hope to use the foundation's expertise to help it continue its off-field work in raising greater awareness of social issues, such as inclusion and diversity and to support football's quest to eradicate racism from within the game.
Among fund-raising initiatives planned during the next 18 months, Sunderland have also also designated their forthcoming league match against leaders Manchester United on March 30 as “Nelson Mandela Day”.
“There is no more iconic figure in the world today than Nelson Mandela,” said Sunderland vice-chairman and local lawmaker David Miliband, who was foreign minister in prime minister Gordon Brown's centre-left Labour government from 2007 to 2010.
“His values of equality, justice and reconciliation are the inspiration to millions and this partnership is a wonderful symbol for Sunderland in Africa and a huge honour for our football club,” added Miliband, whose brother Ed is the current Labour Party leader.
Meanwhile Achmat Dangor, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, said: “We strive to live up to Nelson Mandela's ethos of inclusivity and reconciliation. We therefore need to secure the Centre's financial independence.
“We are delighted Sunderland AFC is joining us on this journey and we are sure that with this club's stature and history our efforts will get a great boost,” he added.
Sunderland, in common with a number of Premier League clubs, are already involved in schemes to promote educational opportunities among young people.
And they previously forged off-field links with Africa two years ago via the Invest In Africa initiative.
The club said this had helped them to grow their fanbase and global presence, particularly in Africa, where nearly 1.2 billion people watch Premier League matches.
Mandela, 94, has been recuperating at his Johannesburg home from a lung infection and gallstone operation.
South Africa's first black president after the country's first all-race elections in 1994, Mandela has a long history of lung problems, dating back to the time when he was an apartheid political prisoner on Robben Island. – Sapa-AFP