Sports, Scandals and the New Millennium

Sports have always been extolled as the harbinger of peace and brotherhood. Sportsmen have risen up from being mere mortals to cherubs who rule over the stadia all over the world. They seem to be invincible as they dribble their way to stardom on the field or knock out their opponents inside the ring. But nothing in this world is without a blemish. Very often scandals have rocked the domain of sports which have not only shaken the belief of the millions of fans but have also seen the fall of a number of goliaths of the arena.

Right from the Black Sox scandal of 1919 to the very recent spot-fixing scandal in IPL, scandals have almost become a part and parcel of the game. In some cases it has been the greed for wealth, while in others, it has been the pursuit of eternal fame and glory that has brought down many a great sportsman, and has left us questioning the result of every game we watch on TV and every match that is played in the neighbourhood.

It would take an entire encyclopaedia to record every sports scandal that has come out into the open. So I restricted my present treatise to only the scandals of the new millennium which are still fresh in people’s minds. Going by the same reason, doping scandals have also been intentionally left out because they have become so commonplace down the ages that you could write your Ph.D thesis on them and still just cover only a fraction of the topic.

1. IOC Bribery Scandal (December, 1998)

The actual scandal did happen in the last millennium, but I included it as the sporting event around which the scandal erupted, occurred in 2002. Although Salt Lake City, Utah of the USA successfully bid for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games way back in 1995, the scandal first came to light only in the twilight of 1998 when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Marc Hodler, who was also the head of the coordination committee for the Games, revealed the bribery of certain IOC members by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC). Nevertheless, the 2002 edition proved to be a roaring success and the SLOC made a great fortune. Who says bribery is bad if it can indeed help you make a fortune at the end of the day?

2. 2000 Summer Paralympics Scandal (October, 2000)

The 2000 Summer Paralympics held in Sydney, Australia is remembered less for sporting achievements and more for the dubious basketball controversy where 10 out of 12 members of the gold medal winning Spanish basketball team turned out to be anything but disabled. Apparently the Spanish authorities had made the most of the decision to allow players with “intellectual disabilities” to participate in the Paralympics (which was taken in the Atlanta Games of 1996), and sent a team made up of a bunch of regular guys whose IQ was far more than the eligibility criteria of 70 or below.

3. Operation Slapshot (February, 2006)

Who knew that scandals could occur in ice hockey, of all sports? Apparently a couple of our fellow beings in North America took the game a bit too seriously, and the unprecedented scandal that rocked the National Hockey League (NHL), consisting of teams from Canada and the USA, left the fans flustered. The undercover police operation led by the New Jersey state police uncovered a multi-million dollar gambling ring led by the assistant coach of  “Phoenix Coyotes”, Rick Tocchet; a state trooper, James Harney; a Swedesboro resident James Ulmer as well as a lot of other players, coaches, owners and staff members. The alleged link of the Bruno-Scarfo crime family with the bookmaking ring just proved to be an icing on the cake.

4. Calciopoli scandal (May, 2006)

The year 2006 brought mixed feelings for the Italians. While on one hand their national team won the FIFA World Cup, while on the other hand a match fixing scandal of humungous proportions rocked their football league, Serie A. While in other sports it is the sportsmen who are at the centre of all the match fixing drama, here the team officials and referees were the real culprits. Also known as Moggiopoli or Calciogate, the match-fixing scandal led to points-deduction for four Serie A teams viz. A.C. Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina while Juventus was ignominiously relegated to the Serie B. Many other prominent individuals like the general manager of Juventus, Luciano Moggi and the Italian referee nominator, Pierluigi Pairetto also faced various penalties.

5. Stepneygate (June, 2007)

Formula One is synonymous with scandals whether intra-team or inter-team. If the recent Tyregate scandal left you bewildered by how recklessly the sport is run, then Stepneygate will feel like the plot of a Hollywood espionage movie to you. Also referred to as Spygate in popular media, the Stepneygate scandal involved the passing of technical information regarding the Ferrari team by a former employee Nigel Stepney to a senior engineer (Mike Coughlan) of their hard-core rivals McLaren. The scandal led to McLaren’s exclusion from the 2007 Constructor’s Championship and an unprecedented fine of $ 100 million. Ironically, technical information regarding the 2006 and 2007 McLaren F1 cars were in turn found to be in the possession of Renault although strangely, no penalty was meted out to Renault in this case.

6. Tokitsukaze stable hazing scandal (June, 2007)

The scandal that rocked the Sumo wrestling world in Japan first came to light when a starry-eyed seventeen year old Sumo wrestler Takashi Saito collapsed and died in at the Tokitsukaze stable. While the cause of his death was initially claimed to be caused by heart failure, later on a post mortem found that he was not only thrashed with a metal baseball bat and beer bottles, but was also pricked with the burning end of cigarettes. The scandal exposed the top-down hazing prevalent in the sumo stables and led to the call for better governance of the legendary sport in Japan.

7. Spygate (September, 2007)

The word spygate seemed to have caught the fancy of the media of that time as they also named the National Football League (NFL) videotaping controversy as Spygate.  What with all the frenzy surrounding Super Bowl, American football is no stranger to controversies and scandals. In fact it was only last year that the Bountygate scandal surrounding the “New Orleans Saints” hit the headlines. But since Spygate sounds so much better, let’s focus on that. It was the utter stupidity of the “New England Patriots” head coach, Bill Belichick as he ordered the videotaping of the New York Jets” defensive coachs signals from the sidelines during a game that September. Later on, many similar incidents of videotaping by the “New England Patriots” came to light. Bill was fined a massive $500,000 and the Patriots were not only fined $250,000, but were also docked of their first-round selection in the next year’s NFL draft.

8. Bloodgate (April, 2009)

Okay, since we are so much into gates right now, let’s talk about Bloodgate. It may sound like vampire stuff but it actually signifies to what extent a team may go to win a match. It is one the biggest rugby union scandals to hit the headlines in recent times, where the English team “Harlequins” used fake blood capsules to fake player injury in the quarter finals of the 2009 Heineken Cup against the Irish side “Leinster” as well as on four other occasions. While Tom Williams initially used the blood capsule to fake his injury and come off the field, later on the Harlequins” team doctor Wendy Chapman cut Williams lip to hide the use of the blood capsule. And by the way, Leinster” still fittingly won the game 6-5. Honesty does seem to be the best policy after all.

9. Pakistan cricket spot-fixing scandal (July 2010)

I acknowledge that this was not the first time that the involvement of bookies in cricket came to light. Neither was it the last. But since we are talking about the new millennium, the spot-fixing scandal surrounding the Pakistan cricket team, where three of its star players including the captain were involved, deserves a mention. The days of fixing an entire match were gone as spot-fixing became the new mantra (which by the way, a couple of IPL players seem to have taken up really well). A bookie Mazhar Majeed was videotaped by undercover reporters from “News of the World” accepting money and predicting at which point of the match a particular bowler would bowl a no-ball. Indeed Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif not only bowled those exact overs but also bowled the no-balls as predicted. Amir, Asis and their captain Salman Butt faced bans ranging from 5 to 10 years and also had to serve prison terms.

10. CWG Scam (Oct, 2010)

India has always led the pack when it comes to corruption, be it in defence deals or spectrum allocation. So why be left behind in the realm of sports? The Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi in 2010 provided the organizing committee the perfect opportunity to make some quick bucks and a total of 53 corruption cases came to light after the conclusion of the Games which included amongst others, the Time-Scoring-Result (TSR) case, the Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR) case and the Event Knowledge Services (EKS) case. The chairman of the organizing committee, Suresh Kalmadi, was arrested and tried for corruption and criminal conspiracy. On the brighter side for the officials, the terror threats and doping scandals were completely submerged under all the cacophony over the CWG scam.

Now, these in a gist were the most talked about scandals of this new millennium so far. Of course going by the rate at which scandals and controversies seem to be erupting these days, a couple of more sports scandals might have already occurred by the time you finish reading this article and a lot many others might be just in the pipeline. Sports in recent times may seem to have hit a new low but do remember that for every Ben Johnson there is a Carl Lewis, and for every other budding cheat on this planet there is a true sportsman in the making who will reach the zenith of stardom through his determination and spirit.

Image Sources:

1. Sydney Paralympic Games logo:

2. Headlines featuring the “Calciopoli” scandal:

Surojit Chakraborty

Writer, HR, Bibliophile, Polyglot, Optimist

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