Of lies and the truth lurking behind them
One of the most intriguing aspects of Lance Armstrong's 'confession' (apart from his having to look up the dictionary to see what 'cheat' means) is the inconsistency in the details. Did he or did he not offer the USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) a 'donation' of a quarter million dollars back in 2004? No, he told Oprah Winfrey in his televised 'confession'; yes, he did, says Travis Tygart, former President of the USADA whose relentless pursuit of the truth in the Armstrong case is a lesson for administrators the world over.
Having confessed to using drugs in each of his seven Tour de France wins, why would Armstrong seek to appear clean in that one instance? Is it more shameful offer what could be seen as a bribe than it is to take performance-enhancing drugs? In the hierarchy of guilt where does one stand in relation to the other? Does Armstrong expect people to say: "Well, he may have been a drugs cheat, but he had such integrity where bribery is concerned." Or is that all part of some legal legerdemain?
More importantly, how much of his confession should we believe given that he probably needs to go back to his dictionary to see what 'lying' means?
While Armstrong garnered much publicity as befits one of the best-known athletes of our time, a retraction from another athlete, not so well known, but part of another huge confidence-destroying 'cheating' scheme, has not had a similar effect. Not even among the small circle that makes up cricket's constituency around the world.
Former South African fast bowler Henry Williams testified to the King's Commission set up to probe the misdeed a dozen years ago that he had been paid 15,000 dollars by his captain Hansie Cronje to help fix a match. Match-fixing (and its variants like spot fixing) has been the biggest scandal in cricket in recent times, and some of the players involved including Cronje himself have paid for their involvement in it. Cronje was later killed in an air crash, and an enduring image of his career is the weeping former hero on television, confessing all.
And now Williams says he wasn't offered any money by Cronje and that the statement was suggested by his lawyers "to get to somebody. I believe that was to get to Cronje and whoever was involved in this." His lawyers have dismissed the allegation as "rubbish".
Williams had told the King's Commission he had been bribed to concede 50 runs in his 10 overs in the fifth one-dayer against India back in 2000. But he was injured during the game and was only able to bowl two overs. What is intriguing is that originally Williams had told his lawyers that Cronje had not offered him any money. So which of his statements is the truth?
When a self-confessed liar (going purely by the dictionary meaning of the word: "a person who has lied") puts out more than one version of his story or is shown to have a cavalier attitude to truth even in the midst of a tell-all, admit-all confession, how do we decide?
It is unlikely that the match-fixing case will be reopened based on a couple of interviews that Williams gave recently. But sweeping the player's statements under the carpet for fear of causing embarrassment or opening yet another can of worms would not be wise.
There are important questions to be answered. Why is Williams saying these things now, so many years later? How sound was the basis of the King's Commission? Cronje was guilty, as he himself admitted, but was there an attempt to over-egg the pudding by bringing in specific figures?
No sport can afford to take its cue from Pontius Pilate: ask what is truth, and then walk away before the answer is given.
More about Suresh MenonSuresh Menon is Editor, Wisden India Almanack, and author, most recently, of Bishan: Portrait of a Cricketer.
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