Biggest sports controversies in 2018: Ball tampering, Serena Williams at US Open and Virat Kohli’s ‘Leave India’ remark

Natasha Singh
Steve Smith broke down in a press conference following the ball tampering controversy. (Source: AP)

This year has been the year of new stars emerging, from Naomi Osaka becoming US Open champion to Hima Das winning India’s first ever gold at Athletics Junior World Championships. The year also saw many big tournaments take place including the football and hockey World Cup as well as Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. As with any year, 2018 also had its own share of controversies from the ball-tampering scandal that shook cricket to star footballer Cristiano Ronaldo being accused of rape.

As we come to the end of this year, here is a look at some of the biggest controversies across sports in 2018:


Cameron Bancroft used sandpaper while working on the ball in an illegal attempt to scuff it during the Cape Town Test. (Source: AP)

One of the biggest controversies to rock cricket took place in March this year with then Australia captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner being involved in ball-tampering scandal during the Cape Town Test. The image of Cameron Bancroft stuffing down yellow sandpaper became the iconic picture of shame for Australian cricket as the three accepted tampering with the ball to alter the ball condition.

As a consequence to the biggest cricket controversy in the sport in recent past, Darren Lehmann stepped down as coach, Smith and Warner received bans for a year and Bancroft got himself a ban of nine months from International cricket. Smith and Warner were also not allowed to participate in the Indian Premier League (IPL) last season.

Cristiano Ronaldo accused of rape

Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo made news for several reasons during the summer break. Not all of them for the right reasons. Leaving Real Madrid after nine years, Ronaldo found himself in the middle of a storm as he was accused by US-based former model Kathryn Mayorga of rape in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2009.

Ronaldo, who joined Serie A giants Juventus, denied allegations and termed what happened between the two as ‘consensual’. A video of the two dancing together in a club before the reported incident went viral. The case is being investigated by Las Vegas police.

Rahul Johri accused of sexual harassment

BCCI CEO Rahul Johri outside the BCCI HQ, after the three-member probe panel cleared him of sexual harassment charges. (Source: PTI)

The head of the biggest sporting board in India, Rahul Johri, was named as part of the #MeToo movement. In October, the BCCI CEO was accused of sexual harassment when a Twitter user shared an incident involving an unnamed person, who claimed to be Johri's colleague during his stint at the Discovery Channel. Johri was accused of taking advantage of his position by offering the woman a job.

The CoA set up a three-member panel to look into the matter, which later cleared him of the allegations, calling them 'mischievous and fabricated' despite the panel not being unanimous in their decision. Johri has resumed office since but was suggested 'gender sensitivity counselling' by lawyer-activist Veena Gowda, owing to his ‘inappropriate behaviour’ with one of the complainants during the Champions Trophy in Birmingham.

Serena Williams’ emotional outburst

Serena Williams of the United States sits at her bench after yelling at the chair umpire. (Source: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPORTS)

The women’s’ singles final of the US Open between crowd favourite Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka of Japan was the talk in the sporting world for weeks at length. Former World No. 1 Serena had an emotional outburst at chair umpire Carlos Ramos. The second set of the match saw multiple code violations being handed down to Serena, who was set to make history by equalling a record holding 24 Grand Slams, but ended up losing the final.

Upset by the violations, Williams screamed at the referee, "You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life! I have a daughter and I stand for what's right for her. I don't cheat to win. I'd rather lose." An upset Serena later smashed her racket on the court and called Carlos a 'thief' for stealing her point.

The controversial finish stole the limelight from new US Open champion Osaka, who became Japan's first grand slam winner having already become the first Japanese woman to reach the final. The award ceremony was also an award affair with Osaka unable to control her tears amidst the booing from the crowd.

Shami infidelity

Mohammed Shami with his wife during happier times. (Source: Twitter)

India cricketer Mohammed Shami's life and career turned upside down in March when his wife Hasin Jahan accused him of adultery, domestic violence, rape as well as match-fixing. Not only was an FIR lodged against him but even the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) decided to withhold Shami's contract. With the cricketer denying all allegations, BCCI cleared Shami of the match-fixing charges. He has later given a Grade 'B' annual contract, which made him richer by Rs 3 crore.

With something new being added to the saga everyday as both husband-wife kept giving separate interviews, Jahan had alleged that Shami and his family members abused her-verbally and physically-while also claiming that the cricketer indulged in adultery. Shami, on the other hand, maintained that it was a conspiracy against him while calling for an investigation.

Mithali Raj omission

Mithali Raj’s exclusion from team in ICC Women’s World T20 semifinal has caused controversy. (Source: PTI/File)

Drama unfolded after India lost the ICC Women’s World T20 semifinal against England with their senior-most player and former captain Mithali Raj excluded from the squad in the crucial fixture. With the decision already being questioned by fans and critics, Mithali came out and accused BCCI Committee of Administrators (CoA) member and former player Diana Edulji of bias and slammed then coach Ramesh Powar for humiliating her.

She also narrated a series of instances where she had felt slighted by the coach. "My issues with the coach started immediately as we landed in the West Indies. At first there were small signs that his behaviour towards me was unfair and discriminatory. For instance, walking off if I am sitting anywhere around, watching in the nets when others bat but choosing to walk away when I am batting in nets, if I try to go up to him to talk to start looking into his phone and keep walking. It was embarrassing and very evident to everyone that I was being humiliated. Yet I never lost my cool," she said.

Powar reacted by writing a 10-page report to the BCCI officials, accusing Raj of not playing for the team and chasing after ‘own milestones’. Mithali then took to Twitter and said that it was the darkest day of her life.

Ada Hegerberg asked to twerk

Norwegian forward Ada Hegerberg, who led Olympique Lyonnais to Champions League glory, won the inaugural Ballon d'Or award for the best player in women's football. It was supposed to be a shining moment in women’s football, a step forward but the moment was tarnished when host DJ Martin Solveig asked her to 'twerk' after receiving the prize. An embarrassed Hegerberg said ‘no’ and immediately left the stage. Solveig later apologised after being widely criticised for it.

Virat Kohli says ‘leave India’

India captain Virat Kohli was hugely criticised for his ‘leave India’ comment when he lashed out at a fan for saying he preferred English and Australian batsmen to Indian players. "Why are you living in our country and loving other countries? I don’t mind you not liking me, but I don’t think you should live in our country and like other things," Kohli told him in a video recording, adding that the fan should get his "priorities straight".

The 30-year old cricketer was criticised for not being able to maintain his calm and for not handling the reaction with maturity. He made his case worse by responding to the backlash by saying ‘all for freedom of choice’, adding: "I guess trolling isn’t for me guys, I’ll stick to getting trolled!"