The sanctity of sport has often been blemished by a number of people who have never taken the phrase “in the spirit of sportsmanship” very seriously. It has also been mired by controversial, and at times unfair, decisions that have left fans either frustrated or furious (or even both) at the audacity of a select few who put personal gain above anything else.
Keeping these two factors in mind, here is a compilation of the ten biggest scandals in sports history.
Match fixing rears its ugly head in cricket, 2000
Sacked South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje wipes his eye during his cross-examination at the King Commission of Inquiry into allegations of cricket match-fixing (23 June 2000). Cronje later broke down and left the hearings in tears at the conclusion of his testimony.
What was a gentleman’s game until the turn of the millennium, lost its innocence when the then well respected South African captain Hansie Cronje admitted to being involved in match fixing with Indian book makers when the Proteas toured India. Things seemed amiss when Cronje made Derek Crookes, a part time off spinner, open the bowling in an ODI at Nagpur.
The Delhi police cracked the case when they recorded a phone conversation between Cronje and a bookie named Sanjay Chawla from a betting syndicate. At first, Cronje had denied the allegations, but later admitted to accepting more than $10,000 from bookies in London. South African batsman Herschelle Gibbs also came out and said that Cronje had offered him money to score less than 20 runs, something he eventually did not go through with.
Cronje was banned from playing or coaching in international cricket for life. But 2 years after the controversy, Cronje died in a plane crash in the Outeniqua Mountains in South Africa. Although investigations revealed that the crash was a consequence of pilot error and low visibility, there have been many conspiracy theories stating that the betting syndicate had had him murdered.
Calciopoli – Italian football scandal, 2006
A view of the court room inside the Naples court palace is seen on April 13, 2010 where former Juventus Football Club general manager Luciano Moggi is set to face a court case over his alleged involvement in a 2006 corruption scandal.
Just a few weeks before the Italian national team lifted the FIFA World Cup in 2006, Italian football’s very foundations were rocked by a massive scandal that would bring the League to its knees. The Calcio di Serie A, as it is called, uncovered a massive conspiracy that involved top clubs like Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio.
Telephone records revealed a number of conversations between club officials and referee organisations, where the clubs selected favourable referees to officiate in their club’s games. The biggest culprits were Juventus’s general managers Luciano Moggi and Antonio Giraudo who tried to influence the appointment of referees for the Turin club’s games. Moggi got the strictest punishment when he was banned from football for life.
As a result of the scandal, Juventus were stripped of the titles they won in 2005 and 2006, after which they were relegated to the second division, the Serie B. They were also not allowed to take part in European competitions, along with Fiorentina and Lazio. AC Milan were also deducted 30 points in the 2005-06 season.
The Calciopoli scandal severely dented the reputation of Italian football and almost killed the League with Inter Milan dominating in the absence of the firepower of the other big teams. It wasn’t until the 2011-12 season that Juventus would return to dominate the Serie A by winning the Scudetto.
Munich Olympics Basketball final – USA vs Soviet Union, 1972
The 1972 Olympics will always be known for the terrible massacre where 11 Israeli athletes were held as hostages and later killed. But on the field of play, there was another scandal that rocked the history books when the United States and the Soviet Union basketball teams faced off in a gold medal match that would eventually be mired in controversy.
The United States had won every gold medal in Olympic basketball since the sport was introduced in the Olympics in 1936. They went into the final with an incredible 63-0 record in the Olympics. In a tight game, USA were down 49-48 when Doug Collins was fouled and went to the line for two free throws. He converted the first to tie the game at 49 and that was when the confusion started.
USA coach Hank Iba upset during dispute after officials gave USSR three tries to win Gold Medal Game at Rudi-Sedlmayer-Halle. Soviet Union won on controversial calls.
The horn at the officials’ table sounded and set in motion a chain of human errors as the Soviet team tried to restart the game with 3 seconds left. But the inbound pass was taken a total of three times with the clock also turned back. The Soviets were unsuccessful with their first two inbound passes and play was restarted for a variety of reasons – for a timeout that was not taken and then for resetting the clock.
On the third inbound play, Soviet Union’s Ivan Edeshko launched a long pass (in spite of stepping on the end line) which was caught by Sergey Belov who made the layup as the buzzer went off much to the delight of the Soviet team and the protestations of the United States team. The Soviets were awarded the Gold medal for the 51-50 win while the United States refused to accept their silver medal when they boycotted the ceremony. They even launched many unsuccessful appeals to overturn the verdict.
Ben Johnson wins Olympic gold and fails a drug test, 1988
At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Canada’s Ben Johnson ran the 100m alongside other notable athletes like USA’s Carl Lewis and Great Britain’s Linford Christie. People expected a close contest to see who would be crowned the fastest man in the world. But nobody expected such a dominating performance from the Canadian sprinter.
9.79 seconds after the starter’s pistol went off; Ben Johsnon crossed the line almost two strides ahead of the pack. A new record. A world record. Johnson was so brash after his victory that he even said he could have clocked a faster time had he not celebrated just before the end.
But fate had other things in store for him as his urine samples tested positive for Stanozolol, an anabolic steroid and a performance enhancing drug that was banned by the (International Association of Athletics Federations) IAAF. Johnson was disqualified three days later and the gold medal was awarded to Carl Lewis, who had come in second. Johnson admitted to taking drugs in 1987 as well when he set the world record which was later rescinded as well. He even blamed Lewis’ friend Andre Jackson for spiking his drink with the banned substance before his urine test.
It was a massive turning point in athletics as six of the eight 100m finalists would go on to be found guilty of consuming performance enhancing drugs or caught up in other drug controversies in their careers.
F1 Espionage ‘Spygate’ controversy, 2007
In what was one of Formula One’s biggest scandals, a McLaren engineer was found possessing a 780-page document which contained confidential information and technical data of their rival team car, Ferrari. The McLaren team was fined a record $100m and also stripped of all points in the constructor’s championship for the 2007 season. Furthermore, they were not allowed to score any more points for the remainder of the season. The drivers were however spared of any penalties in return for co-operation and giving evidence.
Midway through the 2007 season, Nigel Stepney, Ferrari’s performance director, was sacked. McLaren’s chief designer Mike Coughlan was then found guilty of possessing Ferrari’s confidential document when his wife was caught trying to make copies of the data at a copy shop close to McLaren’s headquarters in Woking, UK. Stepney and Coughlan were team mates over twenty years ago at Lotus and it did not take Ferrari long to figure out who was responsible.
After a case was filed in Italy, Coughlan was sacked by McLaren. By the end of the proceedings, a number of teams like Honda and Renault and drivers like Pedro de la Rosa and Fernando Alonso’s names were also dragged into the case. The FIA was also involved in the investigation which eventually reached a conclusion with McLaren apologising publicly and Ferrari dropping the case against Coughlan in England in return for full co-operation.
The FIA then closed the matter with both teams also releasing statements stating the same, with McLaren offering to reimburse the case expenses to Ferrari.
The Hand of God – Argentina v England, 1986
Argentina’s Diego Maradona scores 1st goal with his ‘Hand of God’, past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton.
When Argentina played England in the 1986 FIFA World Cup at the Azteca in Mexico City, football fans worldwide were witnesses to two goals that will forever leave their mark in the pages of history. And Argentina’s Diego Maradona was responsible for both of them.
In the second half of their quarter-final match, England’s Steve Hodge made a mess of a clearance as it looped over the defence and into the box. Peter Shilton made a move to punch the ball clear but Maradona himself jumped in the air and punched the ball over the much taller goalkeeper to score. The goal was given as the English players surrounded the referee Ali Bin Nasser while Maradona urged his teammates to celebrate with him lest the referee overturn the decision.
But before one could question his ability and label Argentina’s goal a fluke, Maradona would enthral the world with a move that saw him score the greatest individual goal of all time. After receiving the ball in his own half, he made a run which saw him skip past 5 English players and the goalkeeper to fire home a second and give Argentina a 2-0 lead. It was such an outrageous goal that it even voted the ‘Goal of the Century’ in 2002.
Although Gary Lineker scored to make it 2-1, England couldn’t come back and Argentina qualified for the semi-finals. Argentina would go on to win the World Cup, but they treasure the win over England more because of the tension between the two countries that existed at the time due to the Falklands War. After the game, when Maradona was asked about the goal, he said, it was scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.
Santhi Soundarajan gender test, 2006
India’s Santhi Soundarajan lies on the track after edging out Kazakhstan’s Viktoriya Yalovtseva for second place in the women’s 800m final on the second day of the athletics competition for the 15th Asian Games at Khalifa Stadium in Doha. Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan, was stripped of her Asian Games silver medal for what was branded a failed gender test.
In December 2006, Santhi Soundarajan had won the silver medal at the 15th Asian Games held in Doha when she crossed the line in 2 minutes, 3.16 seconds. It was a moment to rejoice for the middle distance runner who had overcome troubling times and a lot of hardship to get to the podium.
But the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) then requested her to take a sex test to determine if she was actually a woman. The result came back negative and stated that she “does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman”. Her coach, P. Nagarajan mentioned that her poor upbringing in rural India could have influenced the result.
She was stripped of her silver medal and castigated by a number of outlets for “cheating”. Although she did receive support from the Tamil Nadu government, she attempted suicide in 2007 by consuming a veterinary drug. But she soon took up coaching and trained many students who eventually won the Chennai marathon.
Paralympic Spanish Basketball Team, 2000
Although cheating in the Olympics has been proved time and time again, it was simply outrageous when it was found that cheating was prevalent in the Paralympics as well. Spain had won the intellectual disability basketball gold medal at the Sydney Paralympic Games in 2000. But all celebrations and felicitations came to a halt when one of the team members, Carlos Ribagorda, returned his gold medal and Spanish team kit after revealing that 10 of the 12 members in the squad were never actually intellectually disabled in the first place.
Ribagorda did not do this out of a sense of guilt. He was actually an undercover Spanish journalist who revealed the extent of Spain’s methods to ensure that the team would win a medal to attract sponsors, no matter what. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decree that the athletes should have an IQ of no more than 70 to qualify. But the Spanish Paralympic Committee had never conducted the necessary tests to determine a person’s disability.
The president of the Spanish Federation for Mentally Handicapped Sports (FEDDI), Fernando Martin Vicente, initially denied the accusations. But when the proof came out, he delivered a public apology for the organisation’s part in the matter and also accepted full responsibility, before resigning from his post. In October 2013, Vicente was found guilty of fraud and fined $7800 for fielding non-disabled athletes at the Paralympics.
The team was officially disqualified and asked to return their gold medals. The effects of the scandal were widespread as the IPC then suspended sporting events involving athletes with intellectual disability, thereby dashing the hopes of many people who were preparing for the 2004 Paralympics in Athens. It wasn’t until 2009, when the IPC designed a series of tests to confirm disabilities, did they lift the ban.
The Death Match – Nazis vs FC Start, 1942
A statue showing a Ukrainian player defeating IIIrd Reich eagle symbol. On August 9, 1942, 45.000 FC Start, a team made up of former Dynamo Kiev freed from a prisoner camp, beat FlakElf, a team made up of Luftwaffe soldiers and pilots 5-3.
When Hitler’s German forces invaded Eastern Europe in 1942, they landed in the Ukrainian city of Kiev. As they proclaimed themselves the new rulers, they also realized that they didn’t have the manpower to control such a vast population. And so, Nazi Major General Eberhardt decided to appease the people by organizing a football match between a team of Germans and FC Start.
The Ukrainians (who were former Dynamo Kiev players) were not match fit during the war but they still led the game 1-0 at half time. At this point, seeing that his plan and pride was falling apart, Eberhardt threatened to execute the Start players if they didn’t lose the game. But the team went out and beat the Germans 4-1, much to the delight of the Ukrainians at the stadium.
As word of the defeat spread, the Germans sent in tougher teams to beat while simultaneously not allowing Dynamo Kiev to train and also cutting their rations. But that did not deter them as they beat a Nazi team 6-0, a Hungarian professional team 5-1 and then again 3-2 in a matter of days. They then beat an unbeaten team from Flakelf 3-2 in a stadium filled only with Nazi soldiers, in spite of repeated threats to lose of pay with their lives.
Finally, a Gestapo officer told them that they would play one more game against another German team called Rukh. It was their last chance to lose and the Kiev players did not know what to expect after the game. But to them, their pride was more important than their lives and when the final whistle went, they had won the game 8-0 after literally playing the biggest match of their lives.
Two days after the game, the players were arrested by the Gestapo, after which they were either tortured or executed in German concentration camps. Today, it is known as the ‘Death Match’ and there is even a statue in Kiev which pays homage to these brave football players who stood up to the Nazis.
Lance Armstrong doping scandal, 1999-2005
Oprah Winfrey (R) speaks with Lance Armstrong during an interview regarding the controversy surrounding his cycling career on January 14, 2013.
Perhaps no other story gave hope to millions of people battling cancer than Lance Armstrong’s story did. He had battled testicular cancer which had spread to his brain and lungs to come back and win the challenging Tour de France a record seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005. He had set up the Lance Armstrong Foundation to support cancer patients and the world heralded him as a saint.
And in one fell swoop, his entire world came crashing down and thereby shattering the faith that millions of people worldwide had in the cyclist. In 2012, the U.S Anti-Doping Agency stated that Lance Armstrong had used performance enhancing drugs during the years he won the seven Tour de France titles. Armstrong denied all the charges as he was stripped of all his titles as well as other races he’d won between 1999 and 2005. He was also banned from competitive cycling for life.
The USADA statement said, “The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team (Armstrong’s team) ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that the sport had ever seen.” Testimonies from other team members revealed that Armstrong was the main man responsible for the team’s doping process.
And in January 2013, Armstrong came forward in a television interview with Oprah Winfrey and admitted to using substances that enhanced his performance throughout his career, “I am deeply flawed and I’m paying the price for it, and I think that’s okay. I deserve this.” When he was asked why he took drugs, he responded by saying he had a “ruthless desire to win”.
The fallout of Armstrong’s confession was massive as Nike, who helped raise more than $100 million for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, pulled out of the nine year partnership. They had already stopped sponsoring Armstrong when the USADA’s exposed his doping program.