Posted by: Norman Brook | January 10, 2014

Gleneagles, Invictus & Meeting Mandela

The Gleneagles Agreement was unanimously approved by the Commonwealth of Nations at a meeting at Gleneagles, Auchterarder, Scotland. In 1977, Commonwealth Presidents and Prime Ministers agreed, as part of their support for the international campaign against apartheid, to discourage contact and competition between their sportsmen and sporting organisations, teams or individuals from South Africa.

In 1982, I was sent to deliver an athletics coaching course in Harare, Zimbabwe and was asked to sign up to the Gleneagles agreement.

In September 1989, I took a stand when I realized that Sir Ewart Bell the Chairman of a committee I served on and the former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service in Northern Ireland had accepted an invitation to the South African Rugby centenary celebrations.

The following is a copy of the report from the Glasgow Herald in September 1989. “Norman Brook, the Fife-born national coach to Northern Ireland, yesterday resigned from the committee of the Northern Ireland Institute of Coaching because chairman, Sir Ewart Bell, a former Irish rugby official, accepted an invitation to the South African centenary celebrations.”

In 1991 apartheid and the sporting boycott of South Africa ended.

This is where the irony of future events takes place. In 1995 the Rugby World Cup takes place in South Africa and the Springboks emerge as World Champions. I am in South Africa at this time working on the UK-SA Sports Initiative working on the transformation of sport and the integration of sports previously divided along racial grounds.

During the remarkable post-match presentation ceremony Nelson Mandela wearing a Springbok jersey bearing Pienaar’s number, presented him with the Webb Ellis Cup. During his acceptance speech, Pienaar made it clear that the team had won the trophy not just for the 60,000 fans at Ellis Park, but also for all 43,000,000 South Africans. This was to become an iconic moment captured in the book and film titled “Invictus”.

Pictured between Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienarr is the late Sir Ewart Bell who was at the time the Chairman of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

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Nelson Mandela, Sir Ewart Bell & Francois Pienarr – 1995 Rugby World Cup

Sir Ewart Bell died suddenly in January 2001 aged 76. Reporting his passing the Belfast Telegraph described thus “A serious but kindly man, Bell was respected for his honesty and dignity, and for his great energy.” I would agree entirely with this. Out of respect I called his home to tell him of my intention to resign from the Northern Ireland Institute of Coaching Committee. Unfortunately, he was out of the country but his wife Kathleen agreed to pass on my message to him. Shortly after I received a letter from Sir Ewart thanking me for the courtesy of letting him know in advance of my decision and respecting my decision despite our different positions on the matter.

Like Sir Ewart Bell, I also had the honour in 1995 of meeting and shaking hands with Nelson Mandela. This was at a reception at Lancaster Gate in London for those of us who had worked on the UK-SA Sports Initiative. Unfortunately, my colleague Mike Whittingham, now Director of High Performance at the Sport Scotland Institute of Sport, moved in front of the camera and ruined what should have been a classic picture. I am pictured next to IAAF Athletics Coaching Consultant, Peter Thompson and can be recognised by my yellow and blue squared tie and my Mallen Streak.

Meeting Nelson Mandela in 1995 at Lancaster Gate, London.

Meeting Nelson Mandela in 1995 at Lancaster Gate, London.

My other recollection of a moment captured in Invictus is when Nelson Mandela summoned sports officials to his Houghton residence to discuss with them the national sporting emblem. The National Sports Council of South Africa who I was working with at the time as a consultant wanted all sports codes to adopt the Protea as the new sporting emblem for South Africa. South African rugby wanted to retain the Springbok as their emblem. In the film, whilst attending a game between Springboks and England, Mandela realises that the black South Africans in the stadium are cheering for England, as they would have done during the apartheid era. Knowing that South Africa is set to host Rugby World Cup in a year’s time, Mandela persuades a meeting of the black-dominated National Sports Council of South Africa to allow Rugby to retain the Springbok emblem. I remember the day well and my colleagues at the National Sports Council returning from the meeting. It was wise advice on the part of the then President and when he appeared on stage to present the Rugby World Cup to Francois Pienaar in a Springbok jersey, he brought a divided South African nation together.

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