The Price of Fame
||24 February 2013 07:00
Esté de Klerk
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
For decades, athletes and sporting legends have pitted themselves against each other and the clock. Few records ever remain unbroken for long. They've become modern day gladiators, elevated to international super-hero status by their fans.
Bongani Bingwa (Carte Blanche presenter): "The world of sport contains a virtual galaxy of international super stars adored and admired by billions. But many of these world class performers wrestle with their own inner demons and sometimes the pressure makes them fall."
Like the rest of the world, South Africans place their sporting heroes on pedestals - we celebrate when they win and despair when they lose.
Graeme Joffe (Sports journalist): "You know, South Africans... we love sporting heroes. We build them up, we make them into these... the media makes them into these [phenomenons] [that are] almost untouchable."
Bongani spoke to sports journalist Graeme Joffe.
Graeme: "And then when you see them fall you go: why didn't someone do anything about it?"
And how could the darling of the world athletics track, the man who had set the 2012 Olympic Games alight, have crashed down so spectacularly?
Graeme: "Oscar Pistorius is a fallen idol... for a lot of South Africans, no one wants to believe what has actually happened."
But Oscar is not the first sports icon to shock and disappoint the world. Tiger Woods, Joost van der Westhuizen, OJ Simpson, Lance Armstrong, Hansie Cronje... they all have a place in a parade of fallen sports heroes.
Paddy Upton (Proteas Performance Director): "There's Mike Tyson, Marion Jones... there is a number of athletes who either start erring in their lifestyle side and we see maybe it is alcohol, maybe it is drugs, maybe it is sexual indiscretion, maybe it's fights at night clubs. And the other athletes, the other place they err is in their professional side - they're either into match fixing, it's bribe taking, performance enhancing drugs. And there are tell-tale signs of those things."
Paddy Upton, the mental conditioning coach for the Proteas cricket team, says top athletes live under enormous emotional pressure.
Paddy: "Who is it that is looking out for these things, providing support for them or are we just sitting back and waiting for the individual to topple and then you and I can sit down like this and talk about them."
And it's only with hindsight that we are open to seeing the signs.
[30 November 2005] Man 1: "While you were at the hospital whether you had ever used any sort of performance enhancing drugs or substances?"
[30 November 2005] Lance Armstrong: "No, absolutely not."
[12 April 2000] Hansie Cronje: "I was not involved in fixing or manipulating the result of cricket matches."
When SA cricket captain Hansie Cronje eventually admitted his involvement in match-fixing, it turned into one of the biggest scandals in the sporting world.
Paddy: "There were certainly tell-tale signs that things weren't right in Hansie's life. One way is to look around and say: 'Hang on, there are other things that just don't look right.' The most obvious one is Lance Armstrong - all the signs were there all along, but we haven't been calling it for what it was."
Could the same be true for Oscar?
Geraldine Pillay (Athletics South Africa): "There were things that we thought: 'Ag, let's just forget about that and move on,' because he was Oscar Pistorius."
Former South African champion and Olympian sprinter Geraldine Pillay trained with Oscar Pistorius for many years.
Geraldine: "We really looked up to him. I respected him for what he has achieved."
Bongani: "Was there something everybody missed here? Was there something we should have seen... somebody should have seen?"
Geraldine: "I am sure there was. And somehow we just turned a blind eye to it maybe."
The public may not have seen the signs, but some of those close to him say they had observed small pressure cracks.
Oscar Pistorius: "I thought I must keep my chin up, but anyway."
Graeme has followed Oscar's career closely since he first came into the public eye.
Graeme: "When I look at the trials and tribulations - from the boating accident, to the abuse allegations, to the threatening allegations... and I wondered, was anyone really helping Oscar Pistorius? A lot of people were making money off Oscar Pistorius, but was he getting the professional help that he really needed to guide him?"
Geraldine: "But we were so obsessed with him, just winning medals, just being on every cover of every newspaper and magazine that we totally missed the plot."
Bongani: "Perhaps not since Nelson Mandela has South Africa had such an icon on the international stage. Oscar Pistorius's story inspired millions around the world because he was the 'local boy done good'. But more than that, he had beaten immeasurable odds to do so."
And nowhere was his fame [more] evident than in London, 2012.
Graeme: "He was in the limelight. He was the Poster Boy. For me, he was bigger than Usain Bolt at the Olympic Games. I can't imagine the pressure that must have been placed on this young kid. And once again, was there enough professional help to guide him, to coach him, to help him through what was going to be probably one of the biggest changes in his life? And post-Olympic Games, was there help as well?"
Geraldine: "The pressure comes from yourself because you always want to be on top of your game. You don't want to be seen as a flash in the pan. And then there is the pressure from the public."
Derek: "You have seen and studied the stresses these sportsmen are under?"
Paddy: "Yes, we've got young people now being exposed to a lot of money, a lot of fame, their names flashed on billboards, sponsors wanting them. People treating them like 'special people'. And there is a distinction - and I often make it with the athletes that I work with - that you have a special talent, but it doesn't make you a special person until you work on who you are as a person to become a special person."
Bongani: "Was Oscar treated with special favour? Was he treated a little differently from others?"
Geraldine: "Yes, he is Oscar Pistorius; he cannot be treated the same as Geraldine Pillay."
Paddy warns against turning celebrity sports figures into idols.
Paddy: "We say to the players that we don't see you as a cricketer, we see you as a whole person and we will treat you as a person. You have got emotional components; you've got mental, you've got spiritual and intellectual components, and you also have a phenomenal cricket skill."
Another young South African sportsman who is learning to deal with the pressures of fame is Olympic gold medallist Chad le Clos.
Chad le Clos (Olympic swimmer): "I think the most important thing is to stay humble, stay grounded, stay true to yourself and true to your family because, at the end of the day, we are all the same people."
The fame that followed his remarkable win at the Olympics in London last year took him by surprise.
Chad: "It only really hits you when you come back. I mean, as you touch down in South Africa and you get greeted, you know, at the door of the airport, aeroplane, you know, you have people saying... and ministers... and you're like, 'Wow, this is big!' I mean, that's when it really hits you."
Geraldine: "It can become overwhelming. Not everybody can handle that kind of fame because now, if you buy a car, it is a newspaper article; if you go on holiday, it is a programme on TV. So, not everybody can handle that kind of pressure."
Derek Watts (Carte Blanche presenter): "It is a simplistic question, but if we treat these stars as gods, maybe at times they think they are gods?"
Paddy: "Yes, that does happen. When a person moves into the limelight of name, fame, money, endorsements, etc, and they start getting treated as a 'special person' - that individual, if they're buying into the fact that they are this special person, they are above the law - sometimes even believe that they are immortal - they lose touch with who they authentically are. For the interests of the individual, maybe we need to come a bit closer and support them because we are seeing stuff that we have seen before."
At the moment there are no formal structures that offer support to professional athletes.
Bongani: "Is there any assistance offered to athletes, particularly by bodies like ASA?"
Geraldine: "There are not any programmes in place and I think that that is where we fail as an organisation, as a federation, and also I want to look to agents and managers - because all that they see is a gold medal. And I think now we are faced with a situation where we should probably ask ourselves: where did we go wrong?"
Public sentiment sways with each new revelation and rumour.
Geraldine: "Regardless of the outcome of the case - innocent or guilty - this has tainted his image irreparably, and I doubt that there is going to be a redemption."
Graeme: "A lot of people don't want to believe it; a lot of people will forgive him quite quickly. At the end of the day, if he is found to be guilty or not guilty... If he's found to be guilty, how do you explain that? You know, the loss to the Steenkamp family? They have lost a precious daughter who is never coming back... that is the crux of it at the end of the day. Oscar Pistorius's life may go on... whether it be outside of jail, inside of jail... I don't know. It is going to be troubling times for him whichever way you look at it. The whole story is so tragic and it really is... it makes one cold."
The rise and fall of sports icons is a tragedy.
They live on a knife's edge and, for many, maintaining a balance is almost impossible.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.