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The film tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team to help unite their country. As newly elected president , Mandela knows his nation remains relunctant of change and economically divided. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.
Rugby has a deep historical significance in South Africa, dating back to the early 1900s. For most of the last century the country’s iconic national team, the “Springboks”, were the best, or equal best in the world.But more than any other sport in the country, rugby and its iconic bok was associated with segregation. The end of apartheid saw pressure to abandon the emblem for the more neutral “protea”, South Africa’s national flower.Mandela however understood that it would be sheer folly to eliminate the Springbok emblem from the sport. In surveys of white South Africans in the early 1990s, about half stated losing the flag or changing the national anthem was something they could live with, but over 90% stated eliminating the Springbok emblem was unthinkable.Rather than get rid of the Springbok, Mandela decided black South African should claim it as a national symbol for all citizens. So athletics, tennis, and even cricket all acquired new emblems, but not the Springboks.
Mandela’s support for rugby World Cup was a vital moment, coming in the year after he was elected. We have to remember that the South Africa’s team was one of the least representative entities in the country at the time. Only the mixed-race (or “coloured” by South African terminology) Chester Williams represented the 87% of the populationwho were not white.But Mandela and other leaders understood that sport could be at the vanguard of reconciliation and of South Africa’s return to the international community. And so they threw themselves into it. His support was not a blank check; 40% of World Cup profits were secured for development of rugby facilities and coaching in disadvantaged areas.The Springboks won the Cup in dramatic fashion, with an extra time victory over arch-rival New Zealand. This was the icing on the cake and something no one, not even Mandela, could have predicted.Mandela knew a moment not to be missed when he saw one. He donned the jersey of Springbok captain Francois Pienaar and walked onto the pitch to greet the team before and after the match, securing their position as representatives of all of South Africans, not just the white minority.For South Africa, the long-term impact of the world cup is debatable. Today, the team is still predominately white, but it is no longer exclusionary. Black players are becoming more and more a part of elite rugby.

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