When South Africa denied themselves a chance to book a place in the finals of World Cup 1999 in England courtesy some reckless running by the last pair, their then captain Hansie Cronje, was said to have wept following his team’s debacle. He was not a lone cry baby then. He was in a distinguished company of not only the natives of South Africa but also many from India, including myself.
Once India made their exit in the tournament, the team led by Hansie Cronje became the preferred choice for the billions to win the World Cup. When Lance Klusener hit those two crucial fours off the bowling of Damien Fleming, we were super excited to see the men dressed in green coming so close to entering their first ever World Cup final. So, when the team which we all loved so much shut the door for themselves only because of the misunderstanding in running between the wickets, all our eyes became watery.
The whole world had got that much respect for South Africa and the shrewd captain of the team, Hansie Cronje. We considered Hansie as one of the best examples of how a captain should manage his side. We had so much confidence on the integrity, which we thought, he had for South African cricket. It was then a shocking scandal revealed by Indian police on the alleged involvement of three of the South African cricketers, including the man who we revered most, Hansie Cronje, in match fixing.
We never felt that of all the cricketers, Cronje would be the one who would resort to such an unpardonable act. We kept believing him till he himself broke down in the court while on trial, admitting his guilt. He fell from grace and supremacy very soon. The hero who we saw in him a short while back, turned into a ruthless villain very soon. Like I said earlier, we cried empathizing with him for his team’s failure to make it to the final of world cup 1999, but when the tainted Cronje was reportedly killed in an air crash, none of us bothered to utter even a few words, mourning his death. The chapter of the cricketer was closed then and there.
It was not without any reason I revisited the topic of the tainted past of Hansie Cronje which was all but over more than a decade back. Lance Armstrong, who was an inspiration not long ago even to many including cricketer Yuvraj Singh when the latter was fighting against cancer, was found to have been guilty of using performance enhancing drugs. Infact, more than for the number of Tour de France he had won, he was much known for the battle which he valiantly fought against the killer disease. Thereafter, whoever associated with sports had to undergo this ordeal, always managed sporting a brave look, taking the example of this greatest cyclist in their struggle.
Now, whatever name and fame he has earned by virtue of his pedaling talent have now gone to dust. He is stripped of all 7 Tour de France titles he has earned plus talks about taking back his Olympic medal also have cropped up. As a result, the fans, who had full-fledged respect on the great cycling sensation, have started to speak in insulting tones about him. Some of the fans have still belief left in him, but I am not sure how long will they be able to hold on to their loyalty.
The doyens in their respective fields like Armstrong and Cronje, by indulging in such malpractices which can be termed as “unbecoming of a sportsman”, are actually betraying the fans who have considered them as larger than life figures. When the match fixing episode took place, the image of the players involved alone did not get tarnished. On the other hand, the game as a whole lost its regal presence. Since then, every other past cricketer has started accusing the other on fixing allegations. Once such a situation happened, we, as fans of the game, begin to doubt the authenticity of the close victories whatever we have seen in cricket. We feel every other match is fixed. Though it has not destroyed the popularity of the game in India, the interest has definitely reduced.
Likewise, from now on, I will not be surprised if every extraordinary performance of an individual, irrespective of the sports, comes under the scanner. The fans have every reason to doubt a player and no one can blame them. Even the integrity of innocent players will be questioned as a result of some mischief by a few. When fans watch a game with such sort of ambiguities in mind, the game can never be enjoyed. On the whole, the tainted sportsmen actually bring their respective sport to disrepute. This is largely unfair because the recognition, whatever they got, was only because of the sport which they played.
The term ‘sportsman’ does not just mean a person who plays a particular sport. It has a broader meaning associated with it. A sportsman is someone who is very loyal and fair in whatever he does. He is someone who never projects himself disgracefully in defeats. He is someone who is friendly with his opponents. We can keep on adding so many similar etiquettes while describing a sportsman. So a person who takes up a sport or a game as his profession is expected to possess those qualities. But, when such ethics are absent in a person, he ceases to be a persona in sports.
It is not only about doping or match fixing which we are talking about as heinous crimes. Even in the personal lives, sportsmen need to be careful in maintaining discipline. As much as we recognize Mike Tyson as a great boxer, the reason for him being jailed never gets out of our minds. We call him as the baddest man on the planet and this is not the type of thing sportsman should be proud of.
There is a famous dialogue in the movie, Spiderman, which says “With great power, comes great responsibility”. The statement says it all. When you are garlanded for your accomplishments and talents, it means your outside behavior should be close to perfection. Your responsibility is to maintain some dignity and only then, the millions of fans who follow you will get to learn some lessons from you and will respect you. Any wrong signal sent by the sportsmen will totally affect the fans.
For every child, his father is his first hero. Once the child grows up, he then looks up at sports personalities as heroes. So imagine what would go on in a fan’s mind when he finds out the man he idolizes proves to be a brat. It hurts the fan more, even more than the affected player, when he finds out he is stripped of titles as a result of his unruly behavior. I hope this Armstrong case is one stray incident and such things do not occur in any other sport. Let us wish that all sporting disciplines remain clean from now on.