COMMENT: By Daniel Schofield of The Telegraph
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-of-competition test on 17 January 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 Matters, 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 Matters movement. There have been dozens of ridiculous excuses for previous anti-doping violations from Dennis Mitchell's amorous love-making 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 over-worked and under-funded 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 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 Ralepelle 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 that faced a World XV in a match in 2006.
In some respects, he still has that opportunity to be a role model. A teammate from that 2006 South African team - Johan Ackermann, who is white - also failed a doping test for nandrolone in 1997. Ackermann 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 previously told Telegraph Sport. "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 shortcuts. Doing that would set a powerful example to young black South Africans, just as much as Siya Kolisi, the World Cup-winning Springbok captain. That will require honesty and responsibility, qualities Ralepelle has yet to demonstrate.