Canada's rugby team bowed their heads for Nelson Mandela in South Africa this weekend, moments before a game that may never have happened without the country's former leader.
The national seven-a-side men's squad happened to be in Port Elizabeth for an international tournament at a stadium named after the revered statesman. Canada played the South African team Saturday morning, two days after Mandela died.
Later that day, all participating teams came onto the field wearing black armbands for the national anthem and another minute of silence.
"It is a coincidence that this tournament happened at the same time that he passed away," said Rugby Canada chair Pat Aldous, who lives in Kelowna.
"It'll be pretty memorable for the team having been there at this time."
Millions around the world are mourning Mandela this week as South Africa's first black president, a man who led the peaceful transition from white-only rule after surviving 27 years in prison. Few outside the country recall that he made rugby a national sport for all races a year after he came to power.
Mandela wore the national-team jersey when South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Appearing before the mostly white crowd at the tournament final was a political gamble because the Springboks jersey was associated with the apartheid regime.
"Rugby was considered an elite white man's sport and Mandela made it clear to the country that it's a national sport for all races and he was there to support it," said Aldous.
Hollywood later immortalized the tournament with the movie Invictus, a sports drama starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman.
Fast-forward to today and the current president of South Africa Rugby Union is Oregan Hoskins, a man of East Indian descent who was among the first non-white players to play the game as a quota player. Aldous has befriended Hoskins and sent him a note of congratulations after South Africa won this weekend's tournament.
"To see him on the screen presenting the medals to his own team . . . was pretty moving," Aldous said.
"The fact this so-called 'coloured' is now the president of South African rugby and to watch him hug his white captain at the victory, you could tell how emotional all that was."
Canada's seven-a-side team ended up losing to South Africa on Saturday. If they beat the U.S. in 2015, they'll compete at the Summer Olympics in 2016 when rugby makes its debut in the modern games.
Canada's women's team, which captured the silver medal in the World Cup Sevens last summer, has a stronger chance of making it to the Olympics. Both Canada and the U.S. could qualify for the games.