Football's freedom fighters honoured
As part of the festivities that will mark the 89th birthday of Nelson Mandela on 18 July, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter will confer honorary membership status on the Makana Football Association, which was formed by a group of political prisoners held on Robben Island during the apartheid era. At a media conference at the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) in Johannesburg today, it was announced that a special ceremony would be held on the island where the Nobel Peace Prize winner spent 18 of his 27 years in captivity a few hours before the kick-off of the '90 Minutes for Mandela' match in Cape Town.
"Nelson Mandela was once a pariah unjustly imprisoned by a racist regime, but he is now the world's most powerful symbol of non-racialism. While in confinement on the island, political prisoners played organised football matches as members of the Makana FA, adhering strictly to the FIFA Statutes," said the FIFA President, who could not be present at the media conference, in a statement.
"They are a strong symbol of FIFA's fight to eradicate racism and all forms of discrimination from football and sport, and it is only fitting that their efforts be recognised with this honorary membership.
"This is a significant milestone, and not just for football in South Africa, as the aims and objectives of the game are also to score a goal against racism. Furthermore, the event will underline the commitment of the former inmates of Robben Island, who used the power of football as an instrument of resistance against the apartheid regime. We are happy that the game and FIFA's conferring of honorary membership status on the Makana FA will be a recognition of the contribution of the freedom fighters led by Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. Those political prisoners defied the apartheid rules, but adhered strictly to FIFA's rules on the island," said Tokyo Sexwale, a high commissioner of FIFA's 'Say no to Racism' campaign and himself a former Robben Island political prisoner, at the media conference.
The event on Robben Island will precede the star-studded '90 Minutes for Mandela' game between an Africa XI and a Rest of the World XI at the Newlands Stadium with kick-off at 8pm. Tickets for the game will go on sale at Computicket and are priced at ZAR 30 for general admission, ZAR 50 for grandstand seats and ZAR 120 for suite tickets.
FIFA and the NMF have agreed that the proceeds of the match should be earmarked for social programmes including Nelson Mandela's 46664 global HIV/AIDS campaign. The players will therefore prominently feature Mr Mandela's 46664 prison number on their football jerseys to indicate their support for the 46664 HIV/AIDS awareness campaign to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.
"FIFA's tribute to a great leader who symbolises humanity's ability to triumph over adversity, injustice and discrimination is very timely. In a divided world, sport can play a critical role in overcoming divisions between people. During their incarceration on Robben Island, sport, and the beautiful game of football in particular, kept the prisoners physically, mentally and spiritually fit and able to continue their heroic struggle for equality and freedom," said Achmat Dangor, CEO of the NMF.
Danny Jordaan, CEO of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Organising Committee, said the all-star game at Newlands was "a celebration of the life of one of the great African icons".
"As we move towards preparing for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, we celebrate Nelson Mandela's birthday in recognition of his personal contribution and sacrifices to help South Africa and Africa host its first World Cup, and this event demonstrates the values and importance of the game of football as a vehicle of hope. It is a living testament to what the president of FIFA calls 'Football for Hope'," he concluded.