“I’m in shock. I’m in shock. I’m in shock. I would just like to say one thing. If you ever get a second chance in life for something, you’ve got to go all the way.”
Legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong’s words after winning the first of his seven Tour de France titles sums up what any sportsperson who has managed to make a successful comeback must feel when everything finally comes together again.
Having survived cancer to go on to win what is arguably the toughest race on earth a record number of times, some would say Armstrong is the epitome of second chances. Those are the stories everybody loves to hear – the ones of overcoming illness, or career-threatening injuries. The survivors of car accidents, like our own Natalie du Toit, who despite losing her leg, has gone on to break more world records than she can count in the swimming pool.
But then there are the stories that aren’t so comfortable to listen to; the ones of dope users and match-fixers and others who bring sport into disrepute.
Do they deserve a second chance? Should they be forgiven and given the chance to redeem themselves and their careers?
The case which always springs to mind is that of Hansie Cronje. Having accepted money from Indian bookmakers, Cronje was eventually handed a lifetime ban from cricket with then UCB president Percy Sonn making the remark that if the UCB had its way, it would not even allow Cronje to play beach cricket.
Yes, Cronje should have been punished for his deeds but was that perhaps not a little harsh when others involved in the saga could continue with their careers?
Staying in the sport of cricket, what would have happened if Ali Bacher had not stood by top SA bowler Makhaya Ntini when he was convicted of rape in 1998 and afforded him a second chance to clear his name. Had Bacher not been convinced of Ntini’s innocence, there would probably not have been an appeal where the flaws of the previous conviction could be exposed and the promising young cricketer acquitted.
Where it starts getting tricky is where drugs are involved. South African hurdler Shaun Bownes will be the first to oppose the use of banned substances in athletics – but that’s only because he’s been there, got caught, served a ban and was given a second chance to do it cleanly the next time round, going on to win Commonwealth Games gold.
When should an athlete be handed a lifetime ban and not given that opportunity? The current IAAF rules state that a first doping violation is punished with a two-year ban but a second one, ineligibility for life.
Such legislation is obviously important to eradicate the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport and some would argue that if an athlete is stupid enough to be caught twice, they get what they deserve. But even then, exceptions are made, former joint 100m world record holder Justin Gatlin a case in point.
He already tested positive for an amphetamine in 2001 and then on July 29 this year came the announcement that he had tested positive for Testosterone. Because of so-called exceptional circumstances in his prior violation, the American sprinter has now been handed an eight-year ban from the sport.
Others have not been as fortunate as Gatlin, however, and have been banned for life.
But there have been cases where the testing system has been flawed and athletes treated extremely unfairly, the case of British athlete Diane Modahl who took years (and all the money she had) to scientifically prove her innocence, just one of those.
It’s certainly a tough one with no easy answers. What makes one person deserve a second chance and another not? And if they’re given that chance, how do we know they won’t go and do exactly the same thing?
In the case of Cronje, we’ll never know, but surely there is still a chance to believe the best in others. – Heartlines Features