Ch­ester car­ries the torch for Sev­ens

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

LEG­ENDARY South African rugby player Ch­ester Wil­liams, the only black mem­ber of the side that won the World Cup on home soil in 1995, car­ried the Olympic torch in the Brazil­ian city of Cu­ritiba on Thurs­day.

Wil­liams played a key part in the mem­o­rable World Cup- win­ning cam­paign, the first time the Spring­boks par­tic­i­pated in the tour­na­ment. South Africa hosted the com­pe­ti­tion one year af­ter Nel­son Man­dela was elected pres­i­dent and the coun­try’s apartheid regime was con­signed to the past.

Wil­liams’s try-scor­ing feats on the wing and the sight of Pres­i­dent Man­dela in a Spring­bok jersey at the World Cup fi­nal be­came pow­er­ful sym­bols of a new chap­ter in the coun­try’s his­tory.

Wil­liams said on Thurs­day, with just three weeks to go to the start of the Rio Olympic Games, he be­lieved sport could help bring dif­fer­ent races to­gether and heal wounds of the past.

“You only have to look at the sym­bol­ism of the Olympic rings,” he said. “Unity, ex­cel­lence, re­spect. When the Games be­gin, we will see ath­letes com­pet­ing in union. And that is what peo­ple want to see.

“Car­ry­ing the torch to­day has been amaz­ing. This torch stands for friend­ship.

“I am very proud and hon­oured to be here. I can’t ex­plain the feel­ing I have – it comes very close to when we won the World Cup.”

Wil­liams played 27 games for the Spring­boks and scored 14 tries.

He said his pres­ence in the World Cup-win­ning side and Man­dela’s vis­i­ble sup­port for the Spring­boks, his­tor­i­cally a team dom­i­nated by whites and sup­ported mainly by the rul­ing class, had helped bring South Africans to­gether.

“It was amaz­ing to see peo­ple af­ter the fi­nal cry­ing and hug­ging each other in dis­be­lief. It was the first time that I saw a united na­tion in South Africa,” he said.

“Man­dela came into the chang­ing room be­fore the fi­nal, told us he was our big­gest fan and shook all our hands. When we went out­side we played for Nel­son Man­dela, our pres­i­dent. He was the most peace­ful and in­tel­li­gent man.”

The full sched­ule of matches for both the men’s and women’s rugby sev­ens events was con­firmed last week.

“Peo­ple are go­ing to love sev­ens in the Olympics. It’s a short, ex­cit­ing game,” Wil­liams said. “I would love South Africa to win it, but there will be tough com­pe­ti­tion from New Zealand, Fiji, Aus­tralia and Great Bri­tain.” – ANA

PIC­TURE: COURT­NEY AFRICA

For­mer Spring­bok Ch­ester Wil­liams car­ried the Olympic Torch in Brazil.

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