Tiger Woods Deserves Better

I can’t remember if I’ve ever had any kind of emotional reaction to golf before. While I still think it’s a great sport and one I’d still like to take up one day, I cant help but feel appalled at the way the golfing fraternity treated one of its own and turned its back on arguably its greatest player.


 

When I was younger I didn’t appreciate Tiger Woods as much as I should have. Somewhere along the way, I was taught that his dominance was unfair or somehow bad for the game. I find it funny now that I’m grown that athletes who were just as dominant as Woods in other sports I grew up following, who were in their pomp at around the same time, were heralded for their victories; think Michael Schumacher, Lance Armstrong and Pete Sampras. When I think about it now, I can’t help but feel that although Woods was admired as a player, he was tolerated not accepted and dare I say, under-celebrated.

This past Monday, I woke up in the early hours to the news that Tiger Woods had been arrested for driving under the influence. My heart sank immediately as I was sure this was the end of him. I was certain this was the last nail they needed to bury him; I believed even after all the injuries and setbacks, we’d get to see Tiger at his best once again, however there would be no coming back after this.  If there is one thing that makes me the saddest in sport, it’s the downfall of a once great athlete.

I remember saying “there’s more to this story that will be revealed in the coming days” during one of my bulletins while reporting on the story. I feared the worst, was afraid that more sordid details of Woods’ life would be revealed. I’ll admit I was sceptical when I read that his defence was that he had “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medication”. Throughout that morning, I saw Woods’ mug shot on various news sites as well as social media accompanied by some vile comments. His past indiscretions were dug up and his fall from grace discussed at length. The saying goes ‘A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes’. It wasn’t even a day later when the news broke that a breathalyser test showed he had zero alcohol on his breath.

At that point, I would have thought that would have been the end of the story. The news sites didn’t retreat, instead kept writing stories about how he was found asleep at the wheel of his car as if all the earlier stories were justified and then as if to humiliate him, posted a video where he couldn’t walk along a straight line. Social media users didn’t miss a beat either, I saw more than a few people who had claimed to be Tiger Woods fans, encouraging negative talk about him and one that disturbed me said “he still looks like a drug dealer in that police photo.’

I cannot help but look at the example of tennis where Maria Sharapova is still mollycoddled by the media as if she were a young girl who accidently ate too much candy floss and experienced a sugar high instead of being treated as someone who failed a drugs test and served a lengthy doping ban.

It bothers me that an innocent man who has done nothing but good for his sport is shunned for no good reason. It makes one wonder whether or not there is something sinister at play. Is it possible that Woods’ biggest selling point actually made many within the establishment uneasy and actually couldn’t wait for the day he passed his sell-by date so they could throw him on the trash heap? It bothers me that the fiercest, most dominant golfer of modern time is treated as a black stain on a glorious game while someone like Gary Player, who actively supported apartheid, is still viewed in high esteem.

To date, I am yet to read a retraction or an apology from anyone regarding Woods.

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There’s nothing worse than too late

Imagine for a moment there was a South African Super Rugby franchise that tried to fill up their stadium in a different way. Imagine this franchise thought ‘f**k it, we don’t make all that much from gate receipts anyways, let’s scrap them’ and let their fans watch the game for free. Imagine this franchise made meaningful provision to foster a bond with their community and actually nurture that bond and create a long lasting relationship. Imagine then what would happen then if that franchise was threatened with being axed from the competition?

For my mind, Super Rugby sides in South Africa struggle to draw crowds because they are alienated from their support base. Supporters aren’t given a sense of ownership in their team. Apart from the fanatical or borderline obsessive supporters and those with friends, family or significant others in the team, franchises, especially the smaller teams, aren’t involved enough in the regular lives of their support base. I’m not trying to suggest that the coaches and players need to know details of their fans lives but they aren’t present or visible enough in their surrounds. Your supporters need to feel like they are a part of something, that they are an extension of the team.

I’ve been around campus and mall activations presented by various Super Rugby teams and when I think about it now, whatever good comes from them, that good doesn’t endure past a selfie with someone famous or the momentary pleasure of receiving a free prize during one of the giveaways.

It is mind boggling that when the most successful Super Rugby franchise in history comes to town that two thirds of the stadium is empty. Or perhaps it isn’t. You need only look at attendance figures in the competition to have predicted that there wouldn’t be a full house. Clearly, the old saying ‘build it and they will come’ doesn’t work anymore.

Why not try something different then? For instance, what if you gave a tenth of the tickets (or more) for a particular game to schools around the city, especially to schools in the townships? How impactful would that be, providing access to a sport to youngsters who more than likely would not have had the means to watch? I imagine that such a scenario would not only look better on television and create a better atmosphere at the ground but also give the kids the match -day experience so many of us privileged enough to go as often as we want for granted. Most importantly, it provides the sport with exposure to a new audience.

I imagine, too, that a community with such an involved and generous club in their midst would respond in a much better way when their team is threatened with being axed from the competition. If the good relations between team and community had been established and maintained from the start, there’d be much less legwork to do when trying to rally the public to get behind them and show up for the game; and that support from the community would not be sudden or insincere.

It’s easy to talk when you’re on the side-lines and have nothing in the way of finances invested. I just wish we had the foresight to ask ‘what if?’ looking ahead at the possibilities instead of having to ask ‘what if?’ while looking behind at regrets.

 

Don’t Limit The Kids

In a sporting world, full of doping, politics and corruption, it’s quite easy to become a cynic and to lose some enthusiasm. It happens to me from time to time, and in these instances, I usually find redemption in schools sport, where more often than not, everything remains untainted.

Of the best damn things in sport is watching a young child being introduced to a new game or being taught the skills it takes to play the game. There is so much joy to be found in a child who has mastered a particular sport being taught there is more to a game and being given tools to thrive in a sport and to improve themselves. It makes me livid then, when schools’ coaches forget the focal point of what they do and become self-absorbed instead of working for the benefit of the kids.

Two of my best mates are the head and assistant coach of the Free State men’s hockey team. Between the two of them, they have had immense success on the field over the last two years, and any coach would gain from sitting and listening to them or watching them share their knowledge. It surprised me that this is not so. One of my mates won the u18 girls’ IPT with Boland last year and went through the whole season unbeaten with his u16 girls’ team and in a few weeks will be conducting a coaching clinic in Bethlehem in the Free State. From the responses so far, and the way in which funding was organised, it certainly seems everyone involved is quite keen on having one of the best coaches in the province visit their little town and coaching the kids.

This is not the situation with my other mate and the coaching camp he is organising in our hometown in the Eastern Cape over this coming weekend. If I was 16, 17 or 18 again and a top coach who has already produced 5 junior national players, amongst a bunch of other accolades, came to my hometown to conduct a clinic, I would have jumped at the chance to attend. It’s a great opportunity for any kid to gauge his own level and set new standards for himself and perhaps even dream bigger or set bigger goals with the new information he’ll assimilate. But when the first team coach at the school asks what the point of the clinic is and that he is not fussed whether he is involved or not, I can’t help but scratch my head. But for this blasted clinic, he would have had a free weekend. How can someone entrusted with equipping young men with skills and helping them improve as players and as people have such a nonchalant attitude towards his job?

It makes me realise why EC schools and their provincial teams struggle at big national tournaments against schools from WP, KZN, Gauteng and Free State.

In my honest opinion, school sport in the Eastern Cape is lagging behind. This is not only because there are richer or more prestigious schools outside of the province or that they offer outrageous bursaries but that opportunities like absorbing new skills, techniques and knowledge from elsewhere aren’t seized and I have seen this from a few coaches who are regarded highly there. The interests of the boys (in the cases I am aware of) aren’t prioritised. It seems at times to me, that the traditional schools are content with doing things the way they’ve always been done or focussing on one sport in particular over the others. Eastern Cape schools will continue to be competitive because the province is a gold mine for talent but it saddens me that the kids could be so much better or get better opportunities but their coaches are limiting the very  people they’re supposed to be cultivating and nurturing.

Coaches need to understand that it’s not about them.

Good Cricket All Round: AB, Faf & CSA

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, some time in between the Proteas’ Test series against India and England, I was one of those who thought Faf Du Plessis wasn’t worth his place as a batsman in the team, and now, after South Africa’s series victory against Australia and before AB De Villiers stepped down as skipper, I called for Du Plessis to become the permanent Test skipper.

I couldn’t have imagined that anyone at Cricket South Africa would have had the gumption to sit the golden boy of South African cricket down and ask him, even politely, to step aside and hand over the reigns. Tom Sizeland, a cricket writer I follow on Twitter, swrote that the final decision on the Proteas’ captaincy would be made after a conversation between the two and not by the selectors, and I reckon thats really what it’s come down to.

A word on De Villiers. I don’t know him personally nor have I ever met him, but I really didn’t think he would give up the job he had pined for his entire career. Remember last year when the talk was that he could retire from Tests and then sulked until Hashim Amla resigned and AB was given the job? He clearly craved the job and was willing to do just about anything for it. I don’t know if it helps or makes it worse that his very good mate went on to get that job but it was very big of him to put the interests of the team and progress ahead of his own personal ambitions.

As for Du Plessis, I’ve hardly ever rated him as an international cricketer but he has done incredibly well when entrusted with responsibility. During our most recent show, I asked my partner, Sam, if he thought the Proteas would have still won if AB De Villiers was fit enough to play and captain the side. There is no way to know for certain but in my opinion, I don’t reckon they would have, while Sam pointed out that there were stark differences in their styles of captaincy but in the end we reached a consensus that Faf was probably the better man for the job.

Congratulations to Faf Du Plessis on his new position and all the best, I hope he does a great job and takes the team forward.

IT’S ALMOST NEVER TOO LATE

My ultimate goal was to be in Rio De Janeiro this year, covering the Olympics but I’m not.

I remember way back in 2009 from the moment when it was announced that the city would host the Games, I was determined to make it there. I had never seen someone from my hometown doing something so amazing, in my eyes. But I was told to dream big. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have and God will take care of the rest. I didn’t feel worthy of my dream at times though. I used to feel embarrassed that my friends and people around me wanted simple things, things we’d seen other people around us have. I thought I was greedy. I played small for other people.

While I betrayed my dream and refused to pursue it, life happened to me. I got knocked down. Several times. Nothing went my way. I got beaten black and blue. I got tired of losing. I had no idea what I would do with my life. My dream seemed further away than it had ever been. One day, I had had enough, I was about to throw in the towel when my dad asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I think I was being silly when I decided to tell him about one of the most vivid dreams I had when I was younger, about going to Rio, about being a great damn journalist or broadcaster at the world’s biggest event. I think  I might have been hoping he would think I was silly too and would confirm my own decision to quit on me. My dad was so incredible in that moment. He sat quietly and thought for a moment before telling me: “Okay, do it. Just take it easy.”

It would’ve made for a great Hollywood story if I picked myself up from the dirt in that moment and did everything I could to make my dream come true. But that’s not how it happened. Life happened some more. I failed, I got knocked down some more but I carried on.

Ordinarily, I would be so pissed off at failing to achieve a goal I set out, but I’m not. Because just a few short years ago I had no idea what to do with my life or any idea of what I would be doing today. It’s not where I wanted to be but it isn’t where I used to be and it’s in the right direction.

I just wish one person would be around to see me do this.

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Some Thoughts On Rugby from the past week

Sikhumbuzo Notshe is phenomenal.

He has the makings of a great rugby player. He was the best player on the pitch during the South Africa A vs England Saxons game. I watched 2 of the games he’s played in Bloemfontein this year and he was impressive in both. He has a complete set of skills. He’s good with ball in hand, strong in the tackle, athletic, quick and he doesn’t disappear during the game. He also seems to stand out as a leader. After one of the Saxons’ tries, he was the man who gathered his teammates under the posts and gave them a talking to in the huddle and they seemed to respond well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name in the match day squad of 23 for the 2nd Test between the Springbok and Ireland, I’m keen to see if he’ll hit the ground running.

More Games For SA A and the Junior Boks, please.

I was having a conversation with a friend during the SA A game (we decided to give them the nickname Back-up Boks) and he said he could get used to a weekend watching the Juniors & A team before catching the main game featuring the Boks, much like a high school derby day.

Another thing that was cool to see was the match between the Chiefs and Wales on Tuesday. The last time I remember watching an international side play a midweek game against a provincial team (apart from the B&I Lions) was in 2008 between Munster and the All Blacks. I’m not always a traditionalist but midweek games are the one thing professionalism has killed off from the old days, that I miss and pine for. Hope it was not a once off.

As for the under 20 national side, I reckon those gents need to play a whole lot more games together. One of the reasons the Junior Boks are a hit one year and a miss the next is how they are prepared. They are made to fit a specific purpose and that is the U/20 Championship. Every year the country gets excited by the talented youngsters chosen but more often than not we are disappointed. I think we would get more out of them if they played say a whole season together including practise games prior to their World Cup and an under 20 Rugby Championship against the New Zealand, Australia & Argentina Junior sides. I think that would make tem more competitive.

New Appreciation for The Beast

Ahead of the first Test, I read an article from an Irish website that was positively gushing over Beast Mtawarira. The feature includes detailed technical analysis on how he scrums and just exactly what it is that makes him so good. From there I got the sense that he is perhaps undervalued by South African supporters. That kind of technical analysis is also something that is missing from the South African rugby media.
Back to the game, Beast carried well and gained more yards than I have seen him in a long while. He and Siya Kolisi, especially, seemed to be a lot less tentative in their play and looked like they were playing with renewed confidence, like they were playing for someone who backed and reassured them.

Springbok Numbers 870 and 871

On Saturday, Faf De Klerk became Bok No. 870 when he ran on to the pitch for his debut with Bongi Mbonambi due to be No. 871 if he came off the bench. My gripe is that the numbering of Springbok players does not include black ex-players who were denied the opportunity of representing their country during apartheid but were given Springbok blazers in the early 2000s. Look, history cannot be re-written and this is not the biggest of issues in local rugby but it bugs me that SARU are so good at doing ceremonial and honorary things so well when people are watching. Their gestures placate the public but they are insincere. They should’ve gone the route of cricket and started numbering from 1 after re-admission.

The Small Matter of Garth April

With Pat Lambie now injured, Elton Kantjies will probably start at 10 with Garth April the next in the pecking order. However, the talk surrounding him now is that he is not ready for Test level, he has played only a handful of Super Rugby games, he was playing club rugby this time last year etc… I heard Coeztzee himself say April was brought into the squad to learn. If that was the case, it should’ve been said at the the announcement of the squad and he should’ve been placed on a standby list or whatever. It is incredibly unfair on him if he is leapfrogged by someone else. If a man is good enough to be in an extended squad, you should back him to be able to start or play in a game on any given day. Morne Steyn has been roped into he squad as flyhalf cover and I can only imagine (or hope) Johan Goosen would’ve been in Coetzee’s mind ahead of Steyn but was overlooked because he has a Top 14 semi final to play this weekend.

New Broom Sweeps Clean

So the old English saying goes. Allister Coetzee took the safe and sensible option for his first assignment in charge. With only 2 weeks to prepare the team, there was no way he was gonna pick a wholly different side to the one Heyneke Meyer left behind. I actually would’ve preferred a loss to Ireland if a completely new team was chosen, forget continuity… But I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’m not the Springbok coach. Changes will come and over time the side will take shape and have his own definitive imprint on it. Patience.

I live for this

 

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Last week, my partner in crime, Sam,  and I were invited to attend the Free State Cricket Union Awards dinner, which honours the best junior, amateur & semi-professional cricketers for both males and females in the province.

During the night we got to meet a delightful young lady named Delmari Hoffmann who won the prize for the under 19 girls’ cricketer of the year and got the chance to interview her as well. She excels in tennis, netball, athletics as well as academics, amongst other things and wants to pursue a career in cricket after she completes high school.

Now Sam and myself have interviewed world champions, international stars, national rugby & cricket players and the biggest names from the Free State in the past few years and we both agreed the interview with Delmari was one of our favourites out of the ones we could remember. She was calm and polite as well as quite funny for the few moments we got to spend with her and it was one of those interviews that flowed easily because she made us want to speak to her since she was genuine and original.

When I started dreaming about getting into sports media, the biggest thing for me was never about rubbing shoulders with superstars or taking selfies with them and casual name dropping when I got the chance. My ambitions grew when I realised I could make a career out of something I love and that I could be very good at it. In the beginning, all I wanted was to share my love for sport with others, meet awesome people and to have fun while doing it. The interview with Delmari helped me remember that.

Thank you very much, Delmari.

Remember her name, she’s going to be a star.