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TThe ground is shaking, your heart is fluttering, you can barely think straight and there’s noise coming from every angle. The atmosphere is electrifying. It feels like every nerve in your body is on fire. It’s an adrenaline rush like you’ve never felt before.
You’re at Ellis Park (now known as the Emirates Airline Park) to witness a cliff-hanging match between the South African national rugby team, the Springboks, and New Zealand’s All Blacks in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.
South Africa has just broken free from the shackles of apartheid – during which, sport was used as a major tool for resistance against the system of racial segregation.
SSo now in front of you is the first major sporting event in the country, following South Africa’s exclusion from the international stage in most sporting codes including cricket, rugby and football. These sanctions served the purpose of both highlighting the unjust system in the country at the time and of applying pressure on the National Party to abolish apartheid.
Emirates Airline Park
TThrongs of supporters (of all races) are on their tenterhooks as the clock hits 80 minutes. The score is locked at 9-9. We’re going into extra time. The South African boys are fighting for their lives on the pitch. However, there are only seven minutes to go now until the final whistle. Joost van der Westhuizen (legendary scrum-half) passes the ball to Joel Stransky (legendary fly-half), who slots a telling drop goal to secure a 15-12 victory for the Springboks – sparking a fairy-tale run for the team.
The final whistle on apartheid
It wasn’t just the victory of the underdog that put this match in the history books as one of the greatest sporting moments of the 20th century. Marking the paradigm shift from the apartheid regime, it revealed the true healing power of sport.
Leading up to the match, South Africa – divided along colour lines – was still trying to clean up the remnants of apartheid. Rugby had always been considered a "white man’s" sport, but former president Nelson Mandela made the decision to embrace the tournament and publicly backed the predominantly white Springbok team.
He asserted that “sport is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers".
AAnd boy was he right.
Madiba was 14 months into his term as the country’s first democratically elected president when he strode onto the field wearing a Springbok shirt to hand the Webb Ellis Cup to Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar. At the same time, a new nation was erupting.
Emirates Airline Park: Much more than just a stadium
Following the significant milestone of 1995, Emirates Airline Park, which boasts a total capacity of 60 000 people, has become one of the country’s go-to stadia for large-scale events, including music concerts and international football matches.
One of which was the FIFA Confederations Cup final in 2009 – a year before hosting a number of international matches during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The stadium made yet another mark in the history of South Africa by becoming the first black-owned stadium in the country in 2005 after Golden Lions Rugby Union handed the reins over to a majority black-owned company.
Today, Emirates Airline Park is home to Johannesburg rugby team, the Highveld Lions and is managed by Interza Lesego, Orlando Pirates Football Club and Ellis Park World of Sport.
In addition to hosting sporting events, the stadium also offers nine conference venues, boasting a capacity of 1000 people. Whether you choose an executive suite or a banquet conference venue, you’re guaranteed a charming view of the pitch.
If you wish to see it all, you can arrange a tour of this iconic stadium. You also have the option to visit the Ellis Park Rugby Museum (located within the stadium).
More than just a display of an interesting collection of rugby memorabilia, the museum tells a story of the Springbok experience in South Africa.
It was an act that had played out many times in South Africa: a forced removal. In 1904 bubonic plague broke out in the town centre, in an area known as Brickfields. Once the brick makers had been removed 25km south, to Klipspruit, the area was fenced and razed to the ground. And so Soweto was born.