We probably should have seen it coming. Francois Botha took drugs ahead of his fight against Sonny Bill Williams. We should have taken some ourselves before watching it. It was derided by many before as a joke, a farce of a fight between a young man’s ego and an old man’s need to make money. And yet, we watched. There was something of the freak show about the event on Friday afternoon, like a car crash or a gluttony competition. You knew it was wrong, but, hell, you wanted to see it anyway. Many wanted to see if the fat man could smash the ripped youngster.
He could, but he took 10 rounds to start doing so. By then Botha’s punches to the back of the head, his sly hits on the break and after the bell, and standing on the feet of Williams had begun to pay off for the South African. Botha, the Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday, had been done for Phentermine, a stimulant, and Benzodiazepine, “a valium-type product”, which had also been found in his system. The Phentermine helps elevate heart rate and alertness, helps improve reflexes, and has been approved an “appetite suppressant to help reduce weight in obese patients”. Benzodiazepine, according to Wikipedia, is used to treat “anxiety, insomnia, agitation, seizures, muscle spasms or alcohol withdrawal”.
In a room in a Sandton hotel in 2002, Australian Rugby Union officials sat and answered some pointed questions from the South African media. They wanted to know, in detail, how it was that the ARU had seen fit to hide the positive drug test returned by Ben Tune the year before.
The ARU, along with the Queensland Rugby Union and Australian Sports Drug Agency had been complicit in a cover-up of Tune’s positive tests for probenecid, a masking agent. Tune had been given the drug in 2001 to help with an infected knee. He played two Super Rugby matches until it was discovered that he had the drug in his system by the QRU. They secretly tested him before his next four matches, and when it was discovered he still had traces of the drug in his system, he was withdrawn. The IRB’s mandatory penalty for probenecid was a two-year ban. When it was leaked, the excuse given by John O’Neill, then ARU CEO, was that Tune did not know he had been taking the drug, ignoring the rule that athletes have absolute responsibility for everything that goes into their bodies.
In the last two years, the three national teams of the three big sports in South Africa have been knocked out in the quarterfinals of three big international tournaments. One team were vilified as chokers, the second partially excused as victims of dodgy refereeing while the third were forgiven because no one really expected much from them in the first place.
Bafana Bafana were plucky and unlucky, brave and not depraved, proud and, er, not bowed. And if you think that last sentence was a stretch, here’s the first sentence of the press release from the minister of sport and miscreation, Fikile Mbalula, sent at 2.11am yesterday on his behalf by those kind people at the Government Communications and Informaton Services, who have shown a plucky, brave and proud trait not to use spell-check: “The Minister of Sport and Recreation, Mr Fikile April Mbalula lauded Bafana Bafana for a well spirited and bitter fight during the 2013 AFCON soccer showpiece … Our team fought hard and dominated but as a nation we understood that there could only be one winner. For us, South Africa has already won by being the best of this successful tournament.”
Sports clubs have been the making and the ruin of me. I’ve met some of the greatest people, made wonderful friends, played distinctly average sport and destroyed a liver with the excesses of that the lure of cheap beer prices ensures. I’ve collected stitches, turned the air blue with white-hot curses, missed sitters, been red-carded by an umpire who was an old friend (I never threw the first punch) and for it I have a dodgy knee, fingers that don’t feel all there and scars on my chin. Sports clubs have been a family to me.
A good few years ago I woke up after a particularly good night at the Pirates Sports Club in Greenside to find that the R1000 I had in my wallet had disappeared. As I am not a man who goes for drinks that have more than four letters (five at a push) I couldn’t have spent it all on sauce. A small piece of paper fluttered out of my wallet as I turned it upside down. It was a receipt, made out to me, thanking me for becoming a member Pirates and paying my subs in full. The afternoon and night came back to me. It had started with one of the regular Sportsman Lunches at the club, after which they had agreed to donate some of the money raised from the auction to the fund that was helping to pay medical fees for Larry Lombaard, the legendary sports journalist who had been assaulted and left to die on the side of a road.
Last week Malcolm Lange, South Africa’s most successful cyclist on the domestic circuit, issued a press release in which he said that his refusal to dope had curbed his life-long dream of competing in Europe. Robbie Hunter, South African’s most successful cyclist on the international circuit, including stage wins in each of the three Grand Tours, sent an open letter to Lange in response this weekend. Here it is in full: