The football world today (18 July) celebrated the 89th birthday of Nelson Mandela, an extraordinary man who has dedicated his lifetime to the promotion of human rights and democracy, with a “90 Minutes for Mandela” match in Cape Town. Three-time African player of the year Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon) led an African XI onto the field for a match against a Rest of the World XI including Christian Karembeu and Ruud Gullit, which ended with a final score of 3-3 (2:2). The 35,400-crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to the former statesman and the match was kicked off by Brazilian football legend Pelé using a ball that had been signed by “Madiba“, Mandela’s honorary name in South Africa, at a meeting at the Nelson Mandela Foundation the day before. For the full match report as well as further details on the match, please visit www.FIFA.com.
“Today is indeed an extra special birthday for me, as I have been given this wonderful gift of a football match played in my honour. This match is more than just a game; it symbolises the power of football to bring people together from all over the world, regardless of the language they speak or the colour of their skin,” said Mandela in a recorded message shown on the giant screen.
“It is a real pleasure to be able to stage this unique match to honour someone who has dedicated his lifetime to the promotion of human rights and democracy, and who has led the endless fight for freedom not only of his people, the South Africans, but of all mankind,” affirmed FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter in another message.
“Nelson Mandela has given more than his fair share to this country and continent and with ‘90 Minutes for Mandela’, we are asking him to play into extra time as it were. He has inspired us all to not only think of ourselves and he has inspired new hope for his country and continent,” said the Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa, Danny Jordaan.
FIFA also used the occasion of the match to pay tribute to “Madiba”’s former fellow inmates, freedom fighters who were an example of dignity and brotherhood. On Robben Island, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, the inmates founded the Makana FA, a football association which adhered strictly to the FIFA Statutes and the Laws of the Game. During a heartfelt ceremony attended by many international guests and players just a few hours before the match, the Makana FA became the first FIFA honorary member association.
“The game of football kept us alive. Everything was prohibited on Robben Island, but we used to smuggle FIFA rulebooks underground. We even had ‘professional’ referees and proper disciplinary committees. The teams were divided according to their political affiliation, but the Makana Football Association was a vehicle that united all of us. It ran across all political barriers. It was a very important tool for our own solidarity,” said FIFA Anti-Racism High Commissioner and former Makana FA General Secretary Tokyo Sexwale.