Football stars and officials personally congratulate Mandela on his 89th birthday
On the eve of the "90 Minutes for Mandela" tribute match, Brazilian football legend Pelé, three-time African player of the year Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon) and FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner today (17 July) personally delivered a special birthday gift to the legendary South African statesman in Johannesburg - an official jersey for the Africa XI v. Rest of the World XI match in Cape Town's Newlands Stadium on 18 July with Mandela's name and the number 89 on the back and featuring the 46664 campaign to raise global awareness about HIV and AIDS on the front.
"I am deeply honoured to receive this tribute from FIFA, but it must always be remembered that I was one of many who fought for freedom from tyranny and racism. It is fitting, therefore, that FIFA will also pay homage to the Makana Football Association on Robben Island," said Nelson Mandela, referring to the ceremony that will be held on Wednesday, 18 July at which the Makana FA will become an honorary member of FIFA. "During the dark years of our incarceration, the association drew together all the prisoners on the island around the beautiful game of soccer. In this way it helped uphold the values of tolerance, of inclusiveness and reconciliation, and of non-racialism and peace that are still dear to all of us today," he added.
At the private meeting held at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, Mandela discussed a number of topics including the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ as well as his fight against AIDS and discrimination.
"I've always longed to meet Nelson Mandela. He has fought his whole life for equality and justice. It was an incredible moment to be able to speak with this great personality. Tomorrow, on the field, we will be standing in the line-up together to show a signal to the world. I'm going to tell the world that I have been here. I am very, very proud to be part of this historic event," said Eto'o.
Pelé and Eto'o promised Madiba, as the former statesman is popularly known in his country, to tell the world about their South African experiences and to contribute to the fight against discrimination and AIDS. "I have met a lot of great personalities in my life but Nelson Mandela is an extraordinary person. I am really touched and honoured to lead the Rest of the World team in his birthday match. I am a big admirer of what this man has achieved in his life," explained Pelé, who pointed out that football is the best example for building bridges between cultural and linguistic differences.
Jack Warner spoke on behalf of FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter as he reiterated that FIFA is looking forward to 2010 with great anticipation and is certain that it will be the best World Cup ever. "It is a unique occasion for us to be welcomed by a living legend of democracy and anti-discrimination as he celebrates his birthday. The FIFA President is very sorry that he could not personally make it due to other commitments related to the international match calendar but he sends his heartfelt greetings," he said before presenting the Nobel Peace Prize winner with a special video birthday message from the FIFA President.
Also in attendance at the meeting was Irvin Khoza, Chairman of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, Danny Jordaan, CEO of the LOC, and Jérôme Champagne, Delegate of the FIFA President for Special Affairs.
"A little over sixteen years ago, the world's most visible symbol against racial discrimination walked out of prison, dignity intact, to accelerate the momentum against South Africa's unique form of institutionalised racism. Today we revere the man who led the most remarkable national social transformation," concluded Khoza.
The delegation then flew to Cape Town, where Samuel Eto'o will lead the Africa XI against a Rest of the World XI headed by Pelé at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town (kick-off at 20.00h).