By Abdul Turay
Publish December 10 2011
Skiing superstar's Andrus Veerpalu reputation had died and with it the belief of an entire nation.
I once said that Estonians act and think like black people. This sorry mess with Andrus Veerpalu seems to confirms it. Something very similar happened to my own people about a decade ago.
There are about one and a half million black people in Britain, about the same number as the population of Estonia. We are also called Afro-Caribbean because most of us have roots in the former British colonies in the Caribbean.
Estonians tend to think of black culture in term of black Americans or black Africans they do not think about black British culture or black European culture of any description for that matter. This is common ,the World thinks like. It's frustrating.
The black community in Britain feels, somewhat, neglected. Our achievements, our literature, our art, our music and our science is rarely celebrated outside of Britain itself.
So for us to have a World class athlete, an Olympic champion is a big deal. Just the same as Veerpalu for Estonia.
Our sporting hero was Linford Christie. he won the gold medal in the 100 metre dash at the ripe age of 32 after years of trying at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. He remains the oldest man ever to win the sprint, so it was a great emotional victory.
When I spoke to black Britons of my generation about the Veerpalu case, they all to a person had the same reaction. Without any prompting from me they said:
“Oh....this is like Linford Christie.”
You see Christie like Veerpalu got caught up in a doping scandal. What happened next is very instructive as to what has happened, what can happen and what will happen, what ever the outcome of the appeal.
The similarities between Christie and Veerpalu are spooky. Both men have immense personal charm. Both were widely regarded as upright and honest, and here is the significant part, both failed doping test towards the end of their careers when they were semi-retired.
In 1999 it was announced that Christie had over a 100 times the permitted levels of the performance enhancement drug nandrolone in his system.
He has always denied any wrong doing and his supporters used the same argument that Veerpalu supporters are using today.
"Why would a man who is virtually retired anyway, use drugs?”
None the less, he was found guilty by the International Amateur Athletics Federation and banned from sport and from any further Olympic competition.
At the time of the scandal, black Britons were in anguish, calling up the community newspapers, issuing death threats against reporters. The feeling was, let the national press report it if they want, we, as a people, must stand behind our man.
Here in Estonia, my colleagues were stunned at the viciousness of the reaction to them merely reporting the news. One of them told me, they have never seen anything like it, even the bronze night wasn't as bad. They could not understand why anybody would threaten to kill reporters.
It didn't surprise me at all. Nation's can grieve just like individuals grieve.
In the Kübler-Ross model psychological model, grieving goes through five stages. We have seen the anger and the denial. We have seen the bargaining.
But as the evidence becomes more damning, time passes and people become more reflective the mood changes.
What stuck me about last week's events when the International Ski Federation (FIS) concluded that the positive result will stand wasn't the drop in “Veerpalu believers” down from 89 percent to 66 percent in the Spring, but the fairly muted reaction from the die-hards “believers” toward the press.
The story isn't attracting as many column inches as it once did. People would rather focus on other things, the presidential debate, the Centre Party leadership campaign even the weather.
More is going on. Judging from my experience with Christie, the main emotions people are feeling are disconnectedness and numbness. Most people just don't want to hear about it any more, how much more curse reporters. Following Veerpalu career used to make people happy, now it makes them sad, even the believers. This is the depression stage of the Kübler-Ross model.
A friend of mine called this type of situation, a living death or judgement day.
It is when the body refuses to die but you get no pleasure in life any more.
Yet there is hope, there is always hope.
This business with Christie happened 12 years ago. Today Christie is still an icon, a hero, T.V personality, role model for children and all round good guy.
People of my generation have come to terms with what happened, we are not upset by it. We have moved on. O.K he may have been guilty in 1999 but no one can prove that he did anything wrong in 1992 when it counted. We prefer to remember his achievements. This is the acceptance stage of the model.
Speaking for myself, even though I am aware intellectually that Christie might have been guilty, on an emotional level I still refuse to believe that he ever cheated. Does that make me Estonian, or does that make Estonians black?
Talk to younger people and their reaction is very interesting. There is total amnesia. They have absolutely no memory that Christie was ever was accused of, how much more found guilty of, doing anything wrong.
As far as they are concern Christie is a great man who was once Olympic champion and has a sports stadium named after him. He coaches, gives talks, and works to promote sports and healthy living.
It doesn't end so happily for all discredited sports heroes. Canadian athlete, Ben Johnson, a rival of Linford Christie, was also caught in a doping scandal. He was Olympic champion back in 1988. Today in Canada and the rest of the World his name is mud, if anyone can remember who he was at all.
The difference between Johnson and Christie/Veerpalu, was that Johnson was implicated at the height of his career, just after he won the gold medal.
It doesn't matter if Veerpalu is innocence or guilty. I don't mean this rhetorically, I mean this literally because there is a real difference between the long term public perception and reputation of someone who was banned for doping when they were semi-retired and someone who is banned just before during after their career peak.
The finding doesn't prove that he was doping at the last Olympics or the one before that. No one will ever prove that, because as we have all read, these tests didn't exist back then.
The Estonian people will either never accept that Veerpalu was guilty or will prefer to remember his achievements.
In a decade from now, young people won't even remember that Veerpalu was ever caught up in a doping scandal. He will still be a national hero just like Linford Christie.