The Port Elizabeth weather seemed to match the mood of the whole nation as it prepares to host the next round of the HSBC Sevens Series this weekend at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
In the city whose municipality bears his name, and the stadium that was built to honour the world icon, the world’s 16 best Sevens rugby teams will do battle on Saturday and Sunday in a fitting mark of respect for the former State President.
The International Rugby Board confirmed the tournament would go ahead after a morning meeting with the South African government, SA Rugby and other stakeholders after news broke of the death of Nelson Mandela on Thursday night.
Earlier in the year, when Madiba was rushed to hospital, contingency plans were put in place in the event of his death, including even going as far as cancelling any IRB events that were taking place, but after consultation with the government, it was decided that the tournament should continue.
And the feast of rugby that awaits will play under the umbrella of Mandela’s shadow, as teams will use the occasion not only to entertain the South African crowds who love the sport, but also to pay tribute to the Nobel Peace prize winner.
Not only will there be a moment’s silence before South Africa’s first match against Canada on Saturday – at 1:12pm CAT, GMT+2, but all 16 teams will also join together to honour the leader, wearing black armbands during the tournament.
All the teams will take the field at 5:02pm where the South African anthem will be played, followed by a minute’s silence.
IRB Chairman, Bernard Lapasset said: “Mr Mandela was a truly remarkable man. I was honoured to be with him during the historic days of Rugby World Cup 1995 and saw his incredible impact on his nation and his people. His wisdom, intelligence and sheer presence was a wonder to behold. I am so proud that the Rugby family could play its small part in supporting Mr Mandela’s efforts to establish the new South Africa and that our tournament came to symbolise the emergence of a new nation. He changed the world and we were privileged to witness and embrace his work.”
IRB Sevens Tournament Director, Beth Coalter, said: “It is extremely humbling to be here in South Africa at this time. For these international players it will be a huge privilege to turn out for their countries this weekend and honour the memory of Nelson Mandela in this beautiful stadium named after him.”
Madiba will be laid to rest in a ceremony at his Qunu home on December 15.