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Nelson Mandela inducted into Rugby Hall of Fame

Late South African President Nelson Mandela has been posthumously honored for his contribution to rugby. He is credited with making the traditionally white sport more inclusive after apartheid.

When South Africa's national side - known as the Springboks - won the 1995 Rugby World Cup on home soil, it was Nelson Mandela, dressed in a Springboks shirt and cap who presented the Webb Ellis trophy to then-captain Francois Pieenar.

It is seen as a defining moment for South Africa, as Mandela sought to bridge the divide between white and black South Africans after apartheid through rugby. The sport has traditionally been associated with the white minority and was seen by many blacks a symbol of segregation and the last bastion of whites.

Mandela's induction into the World Rugby Hall of Fame took place in Newcastle, northern England, on Saturday, ahead of the Springboks' clash against Scotland in the Rugby World Cup 2015, which is hosted by England and Cardiff.

World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset, presenting the cap to Pienaar and South Africa's Deputy Sports Minister Gert Oosthuizen, said it was a fitting tribute to a man who did so much for his country and for rugby union - the name for the dominant version of the sport.

"He was instrumental in turning Rugby World Cup 1995 into a momentous occasion that united the South African nation through the power of sport," he said.

"Madiba (Mandela's clan name) was a great man of vision, determination and integrity, who performed a miracle that amazed the world as much as it amazed his fellow countrymen," South African Rugby Union President Oregan Hoskins said at the ceremony.

"His name will rank among the greatest humanitarians and this induction reflects rugby's everlasting friendship and appreciation for a great man."

The story of the Springboks' 1995 World Cup win and Mandela's contribution have been captured in Hollywood film "Invictus" from 2008.

Recently, however, South Africa has come under fire for not selecting enough Black players for their Rugby World Cup 2015 squad. Twenty years after the end of apartheid, a self-imposed target of 50 percent black players in the national side by 2019 is not even close to being achieved.

The Hall of Fame was launched in 2006 with the induction of William Webb Ellis, who - legend has it - as a pupil at Rugby School in England picked up the ball and ran with it during a football match in 1823, leading to the birth of rugby as a sport.

ng/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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