FIFA has once again taken a firm stance in its fight against racism. The '90 Minutes for Mandela' spectacular is a game that will be used as a tool to promote awareness of problems facing the world - and the beautiful game.
CEO of the Local Organising Committee, Dr. Danny Jordaan, believes that using the game in honour of Mandela illustrates how highly football's world governing body regards the political activist, saying that "FIFA sees Mandela as a symbol for what football should be in this world."
With players enduring racist taunts from fans, FIFA tackled the issue aggressively last year by launching a 'Say no to Racism' campaign. During the quarter-finals of the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, matches were branded as part of the operation, with participating sides posing in front of a 'Say no to Racism' banner. The team captains also read a declaration condemning racism in the sport, and committing their teams to fight against it.
The High Commissioner for the 'Say no to Racism' campaign, Tokyo Sexwale, pointed out that this was not the first time the custodians of the beautiful game have taken a decisive stance against racism. Speaking at a press conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, he reminded members of the media that "FIFA itself took a strong stand, not merely against an association or a couple of players, but the strongest stand against racism that was ever taken by FIFA in expelling apartheid South Africa from the family of FIFA. And, of course, after the release of Nelson Mandela, readmitting South Africa."
Sexwale, who was also incarcerated on Robben Island as a political prisoner, relates the power that football had on the prisoners. "Football was used behind prison bars as an instrument of resistance for change. It kept us alive, it kept us physically fit, and those watching it were entertained, and for a while, whenever we played football, we forgot we were prisoners." The football association on Robben Island, Makana FA, will be given honorary membership to FIFA in recognition of using football in their fight against discrimination and injustice.
Symbolically, Samuel Eto'o, who was one of the players targeted by racist slurs, will be playing as part of the African XI in the match. He will be joined by some of the continent's elite, including Abedi Pele, Kalusha Bwalya, Lucas Radebe, Daniel Amokachi and the only African to ever be crowned FIFA World Player of the Year, George Weah. Their counterparts in the World XI will include Ruud Gullit, Joo Sung Kim and Christian Karembeu.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation was clear on the reason it decided to be involved with the match. "In a divided world like ours," stated Achmat Dangor, CEO of the Foundation, "we need all kinds of mechanisms to break the divides and I can think of no other game but soccer that does that."
This is a record second time FIFA will arrange a football match in honour of the world leader. The first time was on 17 August 1999, and also involved a World XI taking on an African XI, which ended in a 2-2 draw.