Chester carries the torch for Sevens
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
Former Springbok Chester Williams carried the Olympic Torch in Brazil.