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My message for Boris Becker: We will wait for you on th...

Sport

BANKRUPTCY & IMPRISONMENT OP-ED

Boris Becker, we will wait for you on the other side, and wish you redemption and forgiveness

Boris Becker appears at Southwark Crown Court on 29 April 2022 in London, England. The six-time Grand Slam tennis champion was sentenced after being found guilty of four charges under the Insolvency Act relating to his bankruptcy in 2017. (Photo: Karwai Tang / WireImage)

I can’t give Boris Becker any advice on what prison life is like. I can only imagine how grim indeed he must be feeling. I am penning him this note in the hope that he might read it and think about life after Wandsworth Prison in South London.

I know Boris Becker. For the best part of 15 years, I have covered ç as a journalist. But before that moment arrived, my first chance to visit Wimbledon came via a ticket from him. We met through my friend, the legendary boxer Chris Eubank. We drank Champagne at The Dorchester London hotel and, although the mood was jolly, my overriding memory was of a deeply troubled look deep into Becker’s eyes.

In reality, he was living a Champagne lifestyle to keep up appearances. His financial woes started a long time ago. I wasn’t at all surprised when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. In the most recent of years, I have seen Boris less and less. He internalised his problems and only phoned intermittently. He never said a lot, but usually ended up making me laugh out loud. 

I had seen something like this before with my long-term friend Chris Eubank. Eubank (who hardly drinks) fell into bankruptcy too. In those days, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Westminster. Chris would often ask to stay the night because he didn’t have anywhere else to sleep. I had to draw the line at sleeping in the same bed though. It was the sofa or nothing, I had to explain. 

Bankruptcy can come to anyone. Usually, it’s bad financial planning or a bad investment decision that brings this about. It is also a statistical fact that most who make their own money also end up blowing it all in their own lifetime.

When the one-time Conservative MP-turned-novelist Jeffrey Archer went bankrupt that was because of a bad investment decision. Back in the 1970s, he thought he was destined to be prime minister, but nobody told him that back in those days that only gentlemen became prime minister, and he has since made another fortune by writing books. But back to Becker. 

Boris Becker has probably not slept a wink since the prison cell doors closed on his back on Friday and the warden shouted “lights out”. The lights have gone out for Becker for now – this will be the first Wimbledon in 25 years when we won’t be listening to his wisdom – at the greatest Grand Slam of the year. But I hope he can take comfort in the knowledge that many people make it back from bankruptcy and imprisonment. I don’t excuse his stupidity in breaking the law, but I am compassionate enough to understand why he acted in the way he did. 

I studied Theology at Peterhouse, at the University of Cambridge. Redemption and forgiveness are strong narratives in my discipline. Increasingly, however, and especially for those in public life, this never seems to apply. Why not? We seem increasingly pleased by humiliation and punishment. The bigger the celebrity name, the more we enjoy it. 

I can’t give Boris Becker any advice on what prison life is like. I can only imagine how grim indeed he must be feeling. I am penning him this note in the hope that he might read it and think about life after Wandsworth Prison in South London. I recommend that he read Jeffrey Archer’s prison diaries. It is light relief – it’s a kind of introductory guide to prison – but for a more fundamental inner look at self, I can do no better than to suggest he turn to the Reverend Jonathan Aitken. He was a British Cabinet minister under John Major as prime minister. He was found guilty of perjury in 1999. The details don’t matter now, suffice to say, Jonathan has since turned his life around and is a prison visitor and a parish priest. His book is worth reading again and again. How to fall like Lucifer comes to mind. 

Read in Daily Maverick: On forgiveness

Boris, your many friends are wishing you forgiveness. We are wishing you strength but, above all, we are hoping you will turn your life around and when you are out, do public good. Lots of public good. You have one of the best senses of humour of anyone I know. I just hope it will help you pull through. I know you can do it and we will all be waiting for you on the other side. 

Derek Laud is a visiting professor of London South Bank University, an Honorary Fellow at Cambridge University, Lucy Cavendish College, and tennis commentator and writer. 

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  • I would like to complement what prof Laud says about Boris and commend him for his admirable message to him on this matter. I could add that among the writings he should explore while in prison is that of one time prisoner Mandela, who turned prison into a place of intense learning in his 27 years there. Gandhi before him probably did similarly in his short detentions by the British. Both had the advantage of having studied law before their imprisonment. 2.5 years is a reasonably short ‘time’ for reflection and growth, if used wisely. My admiration for Boris began when he first won Wimbledon as the youngest men player ever, when he defeated Kevin Curren (a fellow countrymen) whom I did not support because of my commitment to the “no normal sport in an abnormal society ” propounded by SACOS in those days. What I will never forget is his incredibly wise/profound statement when after a few Wimbledon victories he ‘unexpectedly’ lost (in a three set tie-breaker to Stich I think) … when in the post match interview he said to an incredulous interviewer “its only a tennis match!”. You turned things around then … and you can do so again now, with greater insight into human behaviour and motivation! Thank you Derek Laud for looking for the ‘better angels’ to guide us.

  • I don’t wish Boris ill-will I have always enjoyed his perceptive commentary and dry sense of humour in a language not his own. However there does seem to be something of a double-standard at play. Would the author say the same of prisoners he hasn’t drunk with?
    Dickens writes movingly of the trials and tribulations of the inhabitants of the Marshallsea Debtor’s prison, some imprisoned for a debt of sixpence. The laws of bankruptcy eliminated the need for debtors prisons. Boris has not been sent to jail for bankruptcy but for trying to avoid its consequences.
    I too, hope that Boris will draw useful lessons from what he is about to experience and we will hear him again, injecting just a soupcon of levity into the earnest BBC coverage of tennis.

  • We are in a truly bad mindspace when we are encouraged to offer sympathy to celebrities that hide millions in assets from creditors but demand justice for a stolen cel phone or stolen piece of copper. I have not sipped Champagne with Boris so am not qualified to comment.

    • Like Gandhi, who chose not to eat meat (even though he did try early on) or imbibe alcohol, he did not shun speaking with or mixing with those that did … you could have ordered water instead of champagne. Something to ponder I hope ? Neither would the likes of Madiba or Tutu do so … I think … or be categorically judgemental .

  • An interesting take on deliberate criminal behaviour. Do we extend such compassion to murderers, rapists and country plunderers – or is it a case of it’s only money?

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