Wessel Johannes Cronje aka Hansie Cronje would have been forty-three years old had he been alive today. Words used to describe this fiery former South African cricket captain included positive, enthusiastic, inspiring, supportive, winner and great leader. And yet at the time of his untimely demise, he found himself working as a financial manager with an earthmoving equipment company. What caused the downfall of this cricketing giant? Was Cronje the victim of circumstances, or was he just a corrupt, horrible person who deserved every bit of the harsh punishment meted out to him that essentially ended his cricketing career; maybe even his life?
The turn of the century saw cricket grappling with the murky world of match fixing and betting. Many big names were dragged into the scandal; while we watched open-mouthed wondering how such respectable cricketers, our heroes, could stoop so low. Either way, many cricketing careers ended, including that of Cronje. While others got away with smaller bans and fines, Cronje was the worst hit, wherein he was banned from playing and coaching for life. In essence, he was to dissociate himself from everything even remotely connected to cricket.
This had to hurt, because Cronje was playing professional cricket even in his teens. It was probably the only work he was qualified to do. He challenged his life ban, but his application was dismissed. This was done in spite of the fact that he was the first cricketer to admit guilt, and was willing to come clean. He wanted to start over. His conscience was probably stronger than those of others involved in the betting and manipulation nexus. Which is probably why the others involved breathed a sigh of relief when Cronje’s confessions were buried with him in 2002.
Just like the historical figure Angulimala who was assaulted and abused by people after he had given up his crimes and was repenting as a Buddhist monk, Cronje was punished after he had already realised his folly and had decided to give up corruption. Considering that the objective of punishment is to deter the individual from indulging in illegal or immoral activities; Cronje’s life ban from cricket was a moot point. In fact, allowing him to save face would probably have saved his life, in more ways than one.
Cronje had a great passion for the game and his teammates, which was unfortunately overshadowed by his love for money. Surprisingly, we are not talking huge sums of money here. The captain was willing to throw away a game for as little as $15,000. When I was pondering this, I thought to myself, “If it were me, I wouldn’t sell out for such a paltry amount.” This thought surprised me, because it meant that there was a figure for which I would be willing to sell out my team (considering I was a cricket team captain, or in similar position of influence). Which means, I am not above corruption either, were the opportunity to present itself to me. On reflecting further, I realised that I would be too chicken to indulge in any form of corruption.
So am I living as an honest person because I am a scared cat who doesn’t have the guts to do anything risky, as opposed to being genuinely upright? If so, how many of us are scrupulous just because we are worried about the implications of being dishonest? Fear, not integrity drives us! Surely, I’m not the only one; there have to be others like me, even if they don’t admit it to themselves. We’re so happy believing we’re good people, because it makes us feel better than the guilty party, at whom we gleefully point a finger. We’re nice, we gloat. But seriously, what if there are no repercussions of doing a dark deed? Wouldn’t the temptation to give in be great?
There are so many people with corruption charges against them within the state as well as nationally; not even the prime minister is spared. As for cricket, while the game is changing with the times, so is the dirty side of it getting dirtier with more names coming forward in match-fixing scandals. Are these young boys so poor that they are desperate to make money in any way; or do they feel intimidated and pressurised into participating due to peer pressure from senior players? Are these people just like you and me, or is there some telltale sign of a potentially corrupt person? What causes the deterioration of morality?
The interesting question here is what is the mental process or the circumstance that tempts a person to indulge in corruption? Are the brains of corrupt people different from the brains of non-corrupt people? If so, how does a corrupt person reform? Or does a person with a predisposition to be corrupt choose certain circumstances or professions that lend themselves to indulge in corruption?
It’s a lot more fun to watch celebrities being pulled down from their pedestals rather than to think that these people are as human as the rest of us; who can be swayed by the momentary temptation. But the latter would be such a non-sensational and boring idea. It’s a lot spicier to watch scandalised as dark secrets of others are revealed to us, and we gasp in disbelief.
Incriminating evidence against several bookies and players got buried with Cronje. All in all, the bloke was a good egg and my guess is that had he lived, he’d never have indulged in any illegal or immoral activity for the rest of his days. But that was not to be. One can only hope that he has found the peace that evaded him during his lifetime.
The writer is a communication specialist.