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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Sex, drugs and… um, sports

My latest column for City Press:

There is a veil of secrecy hanging over the prevalence of recreational drug abuse in sport. But, given that professional sports people earn such astronomical salaries, is it any wonder that they find it a simple matter to lay their hands on everything from cannabis to cocaine?

Sports authorities seem to wish away the fact of recreational drug use by sports people because of fears about sullying what they imagine to be sport’s squeaky clean image.

But it’s no different than with, say, the rock ‘n roll scene: give someone fame and fortune and they’ll succumb to the lure of drugs.

In the past few weeks, the abuse of drugs like cannabis has been put under the spotlight by Herschelle Gibbs’ autobiography. It’s telling that none of the authorities said Gibbs was lying, but simply repeatedly said they were “disappointed” by his claims.

While Gibbs’ book does not create the impression of widespread abuse, you get the sense that drug use is not isolated to just a few so-called rotten apples.

If the authorities were more frank in dealing with this issue, they would probably get to the bottom of it much quicker than by living in denial. The silence of the sports fraternity about drug use must be broken.

They must learn to speak openly and frankly about how our sports stars are getting high.

Of course, what complicates matters is that even though there is no obvious link between doping and the use of recreational drugs, there is a strong stigma associated with each. But in the case of doping, authorities are quick to pronounce upon the innocence of stars who test positive for a banned substance.

It was no surprise that the Springbok managers went to the extent of describing the facial expressions of the Boks who failed their dope tests last week.

Why not the same when it comes to drugs?

Sadly, with such little openness about how big or small the problem is among top athletes, we are left to scour for anecdotal evidence.

It is interesting that cricketers and footballers in the UK have urged the authorities not to punish athletes who test positive for cocaine and cannabis during the random tests carried out during competitions.

Of course, the consequences of a positive doping test are not just the threat of a two-year ban for a first offence, but also significant social and financial fallout. With those who use recreational drugs, on the other hand, we’re told to put it down to “personal problems”.

John Bramhall, deputy chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, has said: “We have to make sure that a guy struggling with a problem can step forward and receive help to get that issue addressed without the possibility of being suspended, or, even worse than that, losing his contract.”

Bramhall is not alone in preaching leniency. Ian Smith, legal head of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, said cannabis was not a big deal.

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Thoughts on Peter de Villiers, Jake White, Bees Roux and the State of the Springboks

My latest column for The Daily Maverick:

Jake White had his chance as coach of the Springboks. Now he must move on and leave the Boks alone – or are the so-called “experts” just after Peter de Villiers because he’s black?

Driving along Jan Smuts Avenue, flanked on either side by the great trees and the imposing houses of Parktown on one side and Westcliff on the other, I was yanked out of this idyllic reverie by a poster that yelled, “Jake Wants Boks Back”, the umpteenth time I’ve seen similar posters. It is a terrible indictment on our country and its divided sports culture that throughout his tenure, Peter de Villiers has had to duck an array of attacks that mostly emanate from a “How dare they appoint this man?” point of view.

From the day De Villiers took up his post as Springbok coach, there was a deafening chorus of disapproval, with insinuations that his was a token appointment. Even as the results proved Div was indeed the man for the job, despite having proved his mettle with the “baby Boks”, the snipers were ready with their cowardly arsenal.

What troubled me most about this “Jake Wants Boks Back” poster was that earlier on in the morning I had read a most disturbing column by Kevin McCallum about boorish rugby fans in Bloemfontein hurling racial insults at Bryan Habana. Now Bryan Habana is one of the finest athletes in the world, and one of the most polished rugby players on the globe. Yet some Neanderthal rugby supporter feels qualified to insult him as a kind of outsider, an intruder of sorts into the hallowed sanctuary of rugby. Such behaviour should be rooted out in rugby, and given the abundance of technology, fans that hurl such insults should be identified, prosecuted and banned for life from rugby games. This is the only punishment that will put an end to some of worst habits among some fans of South African rugby.

Of course in this environment, it has not helped that so many so-called rugby experts and analysts have weighed in, with some stooping so low as to suggest that Div is technically inept. That is just a fabrication of their own devious minds, because Div’s CV clearly shows that the man has earned his stripes in this hard game. It is not as if he appeared out of nowhere to lead the Boks. On the contrary, he had coached unfashionable sides like the Valke, instilling in the Springs-based side a desire to win that gave them many respectable Currie Cup performances. He has a breath-taking knowledge of rugby and is steeped in the culture of the game.

Like Jake before him, Div had achieved success with the “baby Boks”, and if anything, his resumé and that of Jake look remarkably similar. You would imagine that analysts would then confine themselves to on-the-field success, but Div’s tenure has been a success, and it is only when he goes through lean spells that the vultures swoop in on him ready for the kill.

For all the spectacle of reconciliation that rugby in Soweto provided, it seems that there are elements within rugby that hold on to all sorts of racial nonsense about rugby and to whom this game belongs. Rugby has a lot to answer for and if ever it is to fully shed its image as a game steeped in a long and terrible culture of exclusion, it has to get rid of these people that regularly shame the game. In this context, it is telling that so many of the leading figures in rugby weighed in on the Bees Roux case by expressing their support for the giant player, but totally failing to acknowledge the victim.

If we return for a moment to those that are calling for Div to be axed – sure the Springboks have had a poor run of late. They gave up their Tri-Nations crown before the one victory at Loftus, but this does not cancel out Div’s stellar run of previous performances. Here is a coach who won at Dunedin in New Zealand, breaking a string of Bok losses that stretched back 80 years. But who did the analysts praise for this win? The captain, yes, the captain, who wasn’t even on the field as he had travelled back to South Africa, leaving Victor Matfield to enforce Div’s instructions on the field.

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Europe is deeply resentful that the Fifa World Cup is coming to Africa

My latest column in The Daily Maverick

Someone finally had to say it. Europe is deeply resentful that the Fifa World Cup is coming to Africa.

The Europeans have a sickening sense of entitlement to the soccer tournament, and ever since Fifa announced South Africa as the 2010 host, they have tried every underhanded method to discredit the country. I’m glad that now Fifa president Sepp Blatter has spoken up – he’s probably had enough of the whining from spoilt Europeans about ‘security’ in South Africa during the World Cup.
As well as responding to security concerns, Fifa has already commented on other negative perceptions of South Africa. Last month Fifa general secretary Jerome Valke called for “fair treatment for South Africa”, and told (implicitly European) fans: “Don’t kill the World Cup before it has even happened.” He acknowledged that there were some problems, and that it was “very difficult to find a seat from Europe to South Africa for the World Cup”, but said he found it sad to wake up every morning and read articles saying: “Fifa and (Sepp) Blatter made the wrong decision to host the World Cup in South Africa.”

Now Blatter has added his opinion, and he knows what he is talking about when he says: “There is still this feeling in the so-called ‘old world’ that why the hell should South Africa organise a World Cup. Why the hell?” Blatter has decided that it’s time to call Europe’s bluff and state publicly their deeply-held opposition to Africa’s hosting of the Fifa World Cup. The European lobby tried to gang up against Blatter during 2006 his bid for re-election to the Fifa presidency, attempting, unsuccessfully, to oust him from his position because of his support for Africa’s right to host the World Cup.

Blatter’s angry words stem from the comments made by German Football League boss Reinhard Rauball who “demanded” South Africa must take action following the attack in Togo. Rauball’s language is telling. He “demanded”, and one wonders if he has forgotten that just prior to Germany hosting the Fifa World Cup in 2006 there were acts of terrorism in neighbouring Spain that left nearly 200 people dead. And yet no one “demanded” Germany to do something about what was clearly a domestic Spanish security problem. The European press did not go into a frenzy about how unsafe the 2006 World Cup in Germany would be as a result of the Madrid attacks. Yet the same hacks somehow make the connection between the attack on the Togo team in distant Angola with security in South Africa.

Over time it has become clear that for the highly organised Europe lobby, security is a convenient red herring, their real goal is to sow long and lasting doubt about the ability and crucially, the wisdom of bringing the Fifa World Cup to Africa. They understand that if they can create and sustain a feeling of unease and insecurity about Africa’s ability to host a safe World Cup, then next time an African country bids to host this tournament, the odds will be stacked heavily against them receiving Fifa’s approval.

Who can forget the fury of the Europeans when Fifa announced that the World Cup would be held on a rotating basis by the various continental federations during the bidding for the 2006 Fifa World Cup? Once they had digested the import of the rotation system, the Europeans were outraged, and their well-oiled PR machinery took Fifa head on.

Then UEFA boss, Leonard Johansson, led the chorus of protests at this Fifa decision. “Do you mean that Europe has to wait for 16 years before it hosts a World Cup?” one of them famously asked. Blatter himself was the main sponsor of the rotation system, as he believed that it was no longer equitable for Europe to host every other Fifa World Cup, as has been the practice till the 2006 Fifa World Cup held in Germany. Blatter went around the world, passionately arguing in front of the various confederations that it was time soccer adapted. He had naively assumed that the Europeans believed in the spirit of fair play that is part of the Fifa ethos, but he was badly mistaken.

In October 2007 Europe’s all-powerful anti-rotation lobby finally bullied Fifa into submission and a terse announcement announcing the end of rotation was made in Zurich following a decision by vote at a Fifa executive committee meeting. The announcement is striking for its understatement. It simply said: “The World Cup will no longer be rotated among continents, a decision… that will open the race for the 2018 tournament. The decision came in a vote by soccer’s governing body.”

This backward decision dealt a body blow to the aspirations of the other continents and confederations to host the Fifa World Cup on an equal footing with Europe. As it was, Europe has already unfairly hosted the bulk of the tournaments, and while the Fifa executive committee decision of 29 October 2007 ostensibly announced the end of the rotation system among continents, in effect it reinstated Fifa’s unofficial policy of awarding Europe every other World Cup. After all the fanfare that accompanied the introduction of the rotation system among continents, which Blatter had sold with such passion, eloquence and sincerity, the shocking decision to reverse this equitable system was slipped in via the back door.

Once again Europe’s highly funded, highly organised and highly vocal soccer bullies had used their over-representation on the Fifa executive committee to get their way: this time to conveniently scupper the rotational system before the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football could host the World Cup after South America. So Europe got what it always wanted: to keep things the way they always were. The motto of the European lobby seems to be: “Forget fair play, forget any sense of decency and democracy and just treat the Fifa World Cup as if it were Europe’s property that can be shared with others at Europe’s pleasure.”

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Against Golf Evangelism (My First Column for The Daily Maverick)

I don’t know what it is about golfers, but their unrestrained zeal for their sport always rubs me the wrong way. I have no problem with people who love their chosen sport, who are even passionate about it, but golfers are not content to leave it there. Most of the time they behave as if they are evangelists, preaching the gospel of golf, out to net any prospective convert. Even worse, if you dare say that you do not play golf – that in fact you have zero interest in golf – they start to regard you as some kind of low-life.

In the workplace golfers behave as if they are members of a cult. Enjoying, as they do, the protection and beaming support of the Chairman and CEO, they walk with a swagger and a confidence that suggests that they are the chosen ones. I am always outraged by the amount of time they manage to take from their official duties to devote to a game. Of course they’ll give you stories about how many deals they close on the golf course, but this always seems to me like a lot of baloney. If this were indeed the case, then it seems to me that the sales profession needs to come up with a more effective way of closing deals. Doing it on the golf course, even if you are only playing nine holes, is a particularly long-winded and inefficient way of “closing” deals.

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