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him before his next four matches, and when it was discovered he still had traces of the drug in his system, he was withdrawn.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:
The celebrations for Bafana’s second goal against Angola were celebrated in full-on, HD, stereo quadraphonic surround sound with a estimated 10 000 speakers on Oxford Road on Wednesday afternoon. On Radio 2000, which does not seem to take new breaks during football matches, Brian Mofokeng screamed even more incoherently than usual, shouted “Angola”, “Bafana” and “goal” in equal measures, leaving those driving to scream at and then along with him as they worked out that the national team had gone in front.
A full Putco bus driving south down Oxford Road past the Gautrain station almost lifted off its wheels in happiness as those listening on radios infected those without with the rare virus that is the Bafana goal celebration. It was the same all the way up Oxford. The Rosebank Mews Café and Pub was overflowing, fans crammed outside on the street as they tried to look in the door and windows to watch the Delirium of Durban. It was the resurrection of Bafana, a hint of what they might be if they just paid heed – as Mike Sharman of Retroviral so cleverly tweeted yesterday – the word according to the book of God-on Igesund.
Around the land, lo, the people did begin to believe. Even those who didn’t believe before. And this being South Africa, they naturally had to have a go at those who had not believed along with them, but had not believed in a way that was more believable than them. Fingers were pointed at “critics”, subtweets were fired off against those who had dared point out that Bafana were actually quite rubbish in the opening match. At the post-match press conference someone suggested to Igesund that the criticism of him was “unjustified”. Igesund’s reply: “I don’t think it was unjustified criticism. We hadn’t been scoring goals and that’s how people felt. As I said we just need to bounce back and these situations (criticism) make us stronger.”
On eNCA news, everyone interviewed said they had “always believed in them”. In Wednesday’s The Star, a letter writer from Sandton said Igesund does not like “star” players. He called for the return of the one-footed Teko Modise, perhaps the most over-rated player in South Africa. Instead, Igesund went for Dean Furman, a player for Oldham Athletic in England’s second division. Perhaps he had read Danie Craven’s belief that the Springbok team played better when they had a Jew and policeman in the side. Furman, born into a Jewish family in Cape Town, policed the Bafana midfield in Durban, bringing some semblance of calm after the jittery brainfart of the opening match.
There’s an intolerance to criticism in South Africa right now. Bafana are not above it, and Igesund is well aware of it. He is attempting to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. He is looking to create more cheers and celebrations down Oxford Road.