Do sportsmen fall from grace? It’s not easy to answer.
Why? Because, there’s always two sides to a coin.
Never always about fame and glory, never always about grit and determination; sports, at times, is also about shame and misery. And if a sport becomes an object of shame and dishonour, by default it follows that the sportsmen engaging in it are the actual carriers of the black mark. For just as motivated and fuelled sportsmen are by passion and a hunger to win, their means to attain the end needn’t always be right.
Big words these are – ‘motivated by passion and fuelled by hunger’, there’s no doubt about that. But there’s also truth in them, is there not? Not that I am looking for assurances or validations, when I say this, but a simple acknowledgement of what each and every sports fan knows from the bottom of his heart – his sporting idol is not perfect. Complete professionals, yes definitely; but perfect, most definitely not. Everywhere we fans look, there’s imperfection staring back at us, on the football field, when a player dives and we know that the dive was premeditated for a free-kick; on the cricket pitch, where there’s sledging and so on and so forth. Pick a sport, pick a favourite sports-star in that sport and there does invariably appear a smudge in the player’s aura of completeness. But where certain smudges can be erased with passing time, there are those rare blots that can never be rubbed off, no matter how many turns the time-cycle has taken.
And herein lays the argument and the stand to be taken. If a sportsman has indeed violated the spirit of the sport for the worse, does he merit a reprieve from his fans? Should his fans forgive him for his betrayal to sportsmanship and above all that, his betrayal of their faith and trust? And if per chance they do indeed forgive him, then how long will it take for them to forget his faithlessness to his lifelong passion?
Or maybe the fans don’t forgive him at all and thus, don’t forget the wrongdoing. By extension, which means, they don’t allow the player to forget his mistake, either. Would this be right and justifying as an alternative, then? Not forgetting, but forgetting too – the brightest and the happiest days when the fans were proud to be associated with the player and his greatness. Does one moment of wrongdoing, take it all away? The posters on our walls, the quotes memorised, the spirited discussions about the team and the player, and the obsession with the game itself; does it all go away, just like that?
Everyone makes mistakes, everyone lies and everyone cheats. But no one likes their drawbacks to be highlighted. A lie is a lie, only when it’s proved. And in order to be able to prove a lie, it’s not necessary to speak the truth. Just as affirming that a lie’s a lie doesn’t mean being a party to it or excusing it.
Which, in essence, brings me back to the point that I have been trying to make; subtly – nor not so much, about a certain cyclist. While my integrity decrees that Lance Armstrong is indeed a blot on the face of cycling, the fan in me wonders, how the past is relevant to the present and to the future of cycling. Armstrong’s titles may have been stripped, but nothing can change the fact that he did indeed win them and though his former colleagues might look at him in contempt today, there’s no denying he was once the shining star in the sporting orbit of cycling. So has the man really fallen from grace? Has he been reduced to being the Lucifer of cycling, someone who didn’t win fair and square but decided to be a little underhandedly innovative?
It really doesn’t happen that way. Most of us hate Lance Armstrong and maybe we should. But is there anything any of us can do about it? The man did it all and escaped scrutiny when it mattered the most. What’s the point of delving into it now? The authorities are just as culpable of wrongdoing as the sportsman is, in this case. Their culpability further increases, when one thinks about the ramifications of their seeming carelessness towards enforcing a clean and untainted sport.
This is why, even after the Lance Armstrong debacle, it still isn’t clear whether the authorities have made stringent changes to the existing game rules and policy with respect to doping and whether the sport has indeed been salvaged from the clutches of the deep, under-rooted ‘nexus’ that the American planned and executed to perfection.
Which is why, it’s never always about the sportsmen but about the sport too. Today’s Lance Armstrong, yesterday’s Marion Jones and the countless ill-famed ones that’ll find a way to undermine sports in the future, may or may not be the actual fallen angels of the sporting heaven; but it is their sport that actually takes the brunt of their fall from grace, however late-timed it might be.