Rale­pelle’s lat­est risk is the race card

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Daniel Schofield

To fail one drugs test could be con­sid­ered un­for­tu­nate. Fail two and your sit­u­a­tion re­ally starts to look bad. By the time you reach strike three, most peo­ple would have run out of both the cre­ativ­ity and sheer gall to find another ex­cuse.

So, in a per­verse way, you have to ad­mire the shame­less­ness of Chili­boy Rale­pelle, a South African rugby player, for hav­ing the nerve to con­test an eight-year ban for his third dop­ing of­fence. The South African In­sti­tute for Drug-Free Sport found Rale­pelle tested pos­i­tive for Zer­a­nol, an an­abolic agent, dur­ing an out-of­com­pe­ti­tion test on Jan 17, 2019. He has since in­sti­gated le­gal pro­ceed­ings.

Dur­ing the past 18 months, his ex­pla­na­tions for this lat­est trans­gres­sion have shifted. Last year, he told a South African ra­dio show that he had been tak­ing Zer­a­nol, a growth hor­mone com­monly used for live­stock, af­ter cut­ting meat out of his diet. Ear­lier this month, Rale­pelle al­leged that the anti-dop­ing of­fi­cer had stored his sam­ple in his per­sonal fridge overnight among var­i­ous other pro­ce­dural over­sights. He claimed that he ig­nored var­i­ous red flags on the day, hav­ing seem­ingly for­got­ten the con­se­quences of his pre­vi­ous pos­i­tive tests.

This was just the pre­lude to his lat­est doozy that im­plies he and Ge­orge Floyd are vic­tims of the same sys­tem of op­pres­sion against black peo­ple. Re­leas­ing a state­ment this week which also ref­er­enced Black Lives Mat­ter, Rale­pelle said: “I refuse to be the fall guy for a cor­rupt sys­tem, one ut­terly de­ter­mined to de­stroy lives and liveli­hoods of ath­letes of colour. I do be­lieve that we, as black rugby play­ers, are held to a dif­fer­ent stan­dard.

“Racial in­equal­i­ties con­tinue to per­sist in the sport, and I, for one, will con­tinue to fight, so that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of the sport don’t have to.”

Even cer­tain sports­wear man­u­fac­tures would hes­i­tate to em­ploy such a cyn­i­cal co-opt­ing of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment. There have been dozens of ridicu­lous ex­cuses for pre­vi­ous anti-dop­ing vi­o­la­tions, from Den­nis Mitchell’s amorous love­mak­ing to Tyler Hamilton’s

van­ish­ing twin, but by play­ing the race card in such a po­larised so­ci­ety such as South Africa, Rale­pelle risks enor­mous dam­age to an over­worked and un­der­funded anti-dop­ing sys­tem.

An ex­cel­lent re­cent BBC pod­cast se­ries, How They Made Us Doubt

Every­thing, in­ves­ti­gates how the to­bacco in­dus­try in­vented the play­book for dis­cred­it­ing main­stream sci­ence.

It quotes a se­cret memo from within the in­dus­try in 1956. “Doubt is our prod­uct. Since it is the best means of com­pet­ing with the body of fact that ex­ists in the minds of the gen­eral public, it is also the means of es­tab­lish­ing con­tro­versy.” Ac­cu­sa­tions of racism could do just that.

If Rale­pelle feels he was tar­geted by dop­ing testers then tough. He failed two pre­vi­ous tests. He should be held to a higher stan­dard. Maybe he de­served the ben­e­fit of the doubt for his first failed test in 2010, when he was even­tu­ally cleared of cul­pa­bil­ity by the South African Rugby Union for tak­ing con­tam­i­nated sup­ple­ments. As for his sec­ond failed test, for tak­ing the an­abolic steroid Drostanolo­ne while play­ing for Toulouse in 2015, Rale­pelle told a South African re­porter: “But that’s life. C’est la vie.”

The sad­ness is that Rale­pelle’s should have been an in­spi­ra­tional story. Af­ter cap­tain­ing the South African Un­der-19 and Un­der-21 sides, Rale­pelle be­came the first black player and youngest man of any colour at 20 to lead a se­nior Spring­bok side, when they faced a World XV in 2006.

In some re­spects, he still has that op­por­tu­nity to be a role model. A team-mate from that 2006 South African side, Jo­han Ack­er­mann, who is white, also failed a dop­ing test, for Nan­drolone, in 1997. He ad­mit­ted cul­pa­bil­ity, served his time and is un­afraid to dis­cuss his mis­take. “In the sit­u­a­tion there are a lot of ifs and whys but I be­lieve that ex­pe­ri­ence has helped me,” Ack­er­mann, the former Glouces­ter coach, has said. “I never knew that I would be part of a coach­ing set-up where you can go back and share that ex­pe­ri­ence with peo­ple.”

Rale­pelle, too, can take own­er­ship of his mis­takes: of double-check­ing the ve­rac­ity of ev­ery sup­ple­ment you in­gest and of the con­se­quences of tak­ing short cuts. Do­ing that would set as pow­er­ful an ex­am­ple to young black South Africans as Siya Kolisi, the World Cup-win­ning Spring­bok cap­tain.

That will re­quire hon­esty and re­spon­si­bil­ity, qual­i­ties Rale­pelle has yet to demon­strate.

Strike three: Chili­boy Rale­pelle, a Spring­boks hooker, is fight­ing an eight-year ban af­ter his third dop­ing of­fence

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