Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cheating at sport

My son David is a Formula 1 engineer. One of his friends, Pat Symonds has just resigned from the Renault Formula 1 team as a consequence of the cheating by that team in last year's Singapore Grand Prix. I don't suppose I need to detail the cheating episode, but for those who are unfamiliar with motor racing let us just say that Nelson Piquet junior deliberately crashed his car so that Alonso, his team mate, could win the race. Although no-one was injured, deliberately crashing a racing car is fraught with danger and they were extremely lucky that other drivers, track marshalls and spectators were not injured. Piquet has recently been canned by Renault and has turned whistle blower. By not contesting Piquet's allegations, Renault have virtually admitted that he is speaking the truth.

This is probably the most egregious example of cheating in any sport but I wonder what others make the top ten. The 'spear tackling' of Brian O'Driscoll by two New Zealand rugby players in the 2005 Lions' tour might well have broken his neck and did remove the Lions' best player from the tour. The 'hand of God' goal by Diego Maradonna during the 1986 soccer world cup that enabled Argentina to eliminate England in the quarter finals is number 1 with most Englishmen. Maradonna was not to blame, of course, the referee should have spotted the foul. You could hardly expect a sportsman to turn down a goal scored by cheating that the referee didn't spot.

The many years of testosterone that boosted East German Olympic medals is probably the most organized and efficient example of cheating in sport, while Ben Johnson's 100 metres gold medal in 1988 is probably the most famous.

The most disgusting example is undoubtedly the Spanish entry in the intellectually disabled basketball tournament at the 2000 Summer Paralympics. The team were morally disabled, not intellectually disabled. This cheat appears at number 10 in the top 10 sporting scandals but the others are mainly in American sports that most of the rest of the world don't play, but clearly there have been cheaters in basketball, baseball and American football. However even I have heard about shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox. For the non-Americans, eight players from the Chicago White Sox were allegedly bribed by gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

Tanya Harding, the ice skater, apparently arranged to have her ex-husband beat up her arch rival Nancy Kerrigan just prior to the 1994 US championships. However in the subsequent Winter Olympics, Kerrigan won the silver medal while Harding placed eighth. Another American, Rosie Ruiz, cheated to win both the New York and Boston Marathons in 1980. In New York, she apparently rode part of the race on the subway. Another ice skating controversy occurred when French and Russians judges colluded to give Russia's Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze the gold medal at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Tommy Simpson, the British cyclist died during the 1967 Tour de France. He tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Ever since there have been numerous rumors about cycling and drugs. At one American Society for Hematology meeting I attended a session on 'Sports Hematology'. It was when erythropoietin had just been made available. The lecturer hinted strongly that the American cycling team that won gold at the Los Angeles Olympics were on EPO. Certainly, the Tour de France has been plagued by accusations and in 1998 French officials caught an employee of the Festina cycling team with a carload of performance-enhancing drugs, including EPO. Following an arrest in the case, six of Festina's nine riders conceded they had used performance-enhancing drugs, including current Credit Agricole team leader Christophe Moreau. Later that year, he tested positive for anabolic steroids.

In early 2002, Italy's Stefano Garzelli, leader of the Vini Caldirola team, tested positive for traces of probenecid, a diuretic that can be used to mask other drugs, and Spanish cyclist Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano was banned from the 2003 Tour de France after a test during the 2002 event found excessive levels of an anti-asthma drug. Then there was Floyd Landis.

Polish-American sprinter Stella Walsh was one of the fastest women on the planet. Born Stanislawa Walasiewiczowna in 1911 in Poland, she moved to Cleveland with her family when she was two, but represented Poland at the 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games. She won the gold in the 100-metres in 1932, and silver four years later.

Walsh set 20 world records and won 41 American titles in events such as sprints, long jump and throwing the discus. In 1980 she was shot and killed outside a Cleveland shopping mall. Police autopsies revealed Walsh had male genitals and both male and female chromosomes - a condition known as mosaicism. Other 'female' athletes have had some form of intersex, including, it seems, the unfortunate South African runner who has featured very recently in the press.

Ball tampering is apparently rife in both cricket and baseball. Players have used emery boards or sand to rough up one side of a ball and Vaseline to shine up the other side. England captain Michael Atherton was caught with earth in his pocket, while pitcher Joe Nickro had an emery board in his. And have you ever wondered why Australian cricketers wear so much anti-sun tan grease on their faces? Pride of place should go to Gaylord Perry was notorious for using Vaseline on his pitches, so much so that he offered to endorse the product and even named his autobiography “Me and the Spitter.” Sportscasters would comment about how they had trouble seeing the field if enough foul balls from Perry’s pitches struck the window of the booth since there would be huge grease stains where the balls hit. But the worst cricket cheat was Hansie Cronje the former South Africa captain who stunned the cricket world in 2000 by admitting he had accepted about $130,000 from bookmakers to influence the course of matches. He was subsequently banned for life. Cronje died in a plane crash in 2002 aged just 32.

In soccer feigning injury and diving have become rife in professional sport. Croation-Brazilian, Eduardo was graded an impressive 5.8 for his swallow dive for a penalty kick for Arsenal against Glasgow Celtic. FIFA banned him for two games, but later let him off, it seems on the grounds that everybody is doing it.

Perhaps the saddest cheat was Donald Crowhurst who competed in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, an around the world yacht race. Crowhurst was notoriously ill-prepared for the race and it became quickly apparent that all would end in disaster. He quickly realized he faced the choice of either continuing and more than likely dying, or quitting and facing financial devastation. He chose option three, which involved hanging around the South Atlantic for awhile and making false radio reports about his location. Racked with guilt, he eventually committed suicide. His boat was found adrift, along with a 25,000 word log book that included false logs, poems, quotations, and a long philosophical treatise on the human condition.

One hardly knows where to begin with the use of drugs in athletics. It now appears that not only was Ben Johnson on drugs at the Soeul Olympics but so were those who were bumped up with his disqualification, Carl Lewis, Linford Christie and Dennis Mitchell. It seems most likely that FLo-Jo, who won the women's sprints was also on steroids. Following the BALCO scandal many people doubt that any successful athlete is clean.

Do you remember Russian pentathlete Boris Onishchenko who was sent home in disgrace from the 1976 Montreal Olympics? The Soviet Army Major was disqualified for hiding an electrical switch in his fencing sword which awarded him points when he had not in fact scored.

Recently there has been something of a scandal in Rugby Union, supposedly a hooligan game played by gentlemen. Well the famous Harlequins club bent the rules by feigning a 'blood' injury. The AIDS epidemic brought in a rule that meant that a player who is bleeding may leave the field temporarily while the cut is dealt with and be substituted by another player. Dean Richards, the Harlequins' coach has been banned for three years following a fake blood injury to gain an unfair advantage. Bit feigned injuries are getting commoner in rugby. A common ploy for a team being turned over in the scrums is for one of the props to feign injury. If there is no prop on the subs bench to replace him, then scrums become dangerous and must henceforth be uncontested. This gives the losing team an advantage since they may replace a lumbering prop by a nippy back row forward.

It seems that cheating is endemic. What is the point? I find that I am very good at crosswords if I turn to the back of the book and read the answers first. The Olympics seems to a competition between our chemists and their chemists, just as the space race was a competition between their Nazi engineers and our Nazi engineers. I any sport worth watching? Perhaps the competition should be about who can come up with the most innovative ways to cheat. Here are some suggestions.

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