/ 26 October 2007

Young, gifted and bad

Oom Os du Randt — the Springbok loosehead prop — is one of the most experienced sports stars in the country. At the ripe old age of 35 and with two World Cup winners’ medals around his neck, he has a lot to pass on to younger players, especially those who do not know how to handle success and end up in self-destruct mode.

Du Randt was only 22 when he played in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the first time South Africa won the title. He was on top of his game and the only way forward was up. But disaster struck in 2000 when injuries kept him out of the game. Many thought they had seen the last of the huge prop.

But the passionate rugby player was determined to get back into gear and he returned to the game in 2003.

This week he and his teammates returned home from France with the magnificent gold cup in their hands.

The glamorous lifestyle and huge wads of money do not seem to have affected the rugby stars. Not nearly as much as they have affected some of South Africa’s up-and-coming football players, many of whom seem to be set on a path of self-destruction.

Although many youngsters from various sporting codes get on that same destructive path, footballers seem to attract more attention.

When former Mamelodi Sundowns star Gift Leremi died in a car accident on the R556 in Alberton in September, questions were raised about his lifestyle. Some said he was intoxicated. The reaction was quite different when the former rugby player, Blue Bulls centre Etienne Botha, died in a car accident on the N1 to Pretoria in 2005. No one questioned his lifestyle as a pro rugby player and little if anything was said about any alcohol consumption.

Greyling Viljoen, clinical and sports psychologist from the High Performance Centre in Pretoria, says: ”Football has the highest number of players that get into trouble and therefore it is more visible. It is possible that most of them come from an unstable environment and when they start playing in the big leagues they are introduced to a new world and do not have the necessary skills to cope with it.

”Talented players reach the top level very early, but their personal development and emotional maturity are nowhere nearly as developed. This often leads to immature behaviour,” says Viljoen.

Mzimasi Mnguni, a boxing promoter from the Eastern Cape, who has produced names such as Vuyani Bungu and Welcome Ncita, among others, agrees: ”One of the problems is the boxers’ backgrounds; 90% of them come from unfortunate backgrounds and did not go to school. ”

He says the reason they go ”off the rails” is the sudden fame. ”When they were unknown, no one took any notice of them. Suddenly they become famous and everyone takes notice.”

Gabula Vabaza, a former South African flyweight and WBU super flyweight champion, was known for his drinking problems.

Vabaza lost a golden opportunity in September last year to fight in the IBF junior featherweight title challenge against Canadian Steve Molitor when he failed his medical test. He is no longer involved in boxing.

Norman Arendse, president of Cricket South Africa, agrees that football gets the short end of the reputation stick. ”It would be unfair to single out football because other sports, such as rugby and cricket, also have self-destructive players. The reason you hear more about football players is probably because it is the most popular sport in the country and in the world.”

In 2001 five members of the national cricket team touring the West Indies, Herschelle Gibbs, André Nel, Paul Adams, Roger Telemachus, Justin Kemp and the team’s physiotherapist, Craig Smith, were caught smoking dagga. Each was fined R10 000. Despite their unruly behaviour, four of the five players — Gibbs, Nel, Telemachus and Kemp — are on top form and still playing for the national team. Adams now plays for the Cape Cobras.

They made the news briefly, but soon most people forgot about the incident. The same cannot be said for footballers, who seem to hog the headlines.

In 1998 two South African midfielders, Brendan Augustine and Naughty Mokoena, were sent home during the World Cup because they broke a curfew and went clubbing ahead of South Africa’s biggest football match, their first at the finals.

The players have disappeared from the football scene because of their lack of discipline. Since then they have tried without success to revive their football careers by changing teams.

Another casualty of ill discipline is former Orlando Pirates player Jabu Mahlangu, whose off-field behaviour has made the headlines over the years. In 2001, while still playing for Kaizer Chiefs, he went on a drinking spree with teammate Patrick Mbuthu and missed a crucial league match against Free State Stars. Both were suspended till the end of the season.

In 2002 Mahlangu confessed that he was addicted to Ecstasy and alcohol and was booked into a rehabilitation centre for six weeks.

In August, Pirates refused to renew his contract. Insiders blamed Mahlangu’s off-field antics. Now clubless, he is reportedly trying his luck in the music industry.

Irvin Khoza, chair of the Premier Soccer League (PSL), said the lack of balanced and supportive family structures was often to blame for the bad behaviour.

”They can’t deal with glamour and when they start earning a salary they forget that they are public figures and have to behave properly. Most of them drink excessively and like material things,” says Khoza.

The fact that Kaizer Motaung Jnr, of Kaizer Chiefs, the son of Chiefs chair Kaizer Motaung, and Bhamuza Sono, son of Jomo Cosmos boss Jomo Sono, are seldom in the news for the wrong reasons supports Khoza’s view about family stability.

Khoza says there is a real need for role models who are as successful off-field as they are on-field.

”In football these youngsters can learn a lot from stars like Lucas Radebe and Jomo Sono, who are very modest. They were not into material things and didn’t drink like the youngsters do today.

”The PSL has life-skills strategies in place and we are going to make an announcement soon on how we are going to implement them,” says Khoza.

Arendse says: ”It is not only about what players can learn, but also what administrators in the various sporting codes can learn so that they can devise strategies to ensure young stars do not fall foul of outside influences, such as drugs and alcohol.

”The challenge for us as administrators is to ensure strategies are properly implemented and that they work,” says Arendse.

Viljoen agrees: ”Life-skills training should be part of talent development and coaching programmes. The sporting talent is often developed, but personal development and life skills get little attention. The life-skills training should start at a young age and it should be part of an ongoing programme.”