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The greatest cheats in sport

Whether you regard Formula 1 as a thrilling sporting spectacle or a high octane circus dedicating to advertising, glamour and money, it’s hard to deny the Flavio Briatore/Nelson Piquet Jr scandal is one of the most unscrupulous acts of cheating any sport has ever seen.

Briatore quit as principal of Renault F1 after the team released a statement that they would not dispute lurid allegations made by Piquet Jr that he had been ordered to crash his car on purpose at the Singapore Grand Prix, a scheme designed to help his team-mate Fernando Alonso win the race.

The audacity of Briatore’s plan and the almost casual way in which he put his driver in danger heaps disgrace on a sport riddled with controversy and allegations of corruption, more than enough to earn a place in the pantheon of outrageous acts of cheating. Here’s a countdown of 10 of the most scandalous acts of sporting chicanery.

10 – The Spanish Paralympics Basketball Team
At the 2000 Paralympics, Spain’s basketball team were ordered to hand back their gold medals after numerous members of the squad were found to have no disability. The Spanish Paralympic Committee confirmed it had ordered the medals to be returned after an inquiry found 10 of the 12 members of the team suffered no mental handicap.

9 – Rosie Ruiz
Sometimes the simplest methods of cheating can be the most effective. Rosie Ruiz’s nefarious efforts in the 1980 Boston Marathon earned her lifetime infamy. Ruiz won the race in a then-record time of 2:31:56, but it was later revealed she had simply registered for the race, jumped out of the crowd close to the finish and ran to the line to claim victory. A number of anti-cheating techniques, including video surveillance and time-monitoring chips worn by athletes, were introduced in the wake of Ruiz’s confession.

8 – Tonya Harding
It’s no easy task to make figure skating interesting to a global audience but Tonya Harding’s plot to nobble her rival Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 Winter Olympics did just that. Harding conspired with her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly to injure Kerrigan’s knee and remove her from Olympic contention. Harding’s dastardly scheme was revealed before the Olympics and the US team attempted to bar her from the competition. She threatened legal action and was allowed to participate. Some justice was done as Kerrigan recovered from her injuries to claim a silver medal while Harding slumped to and eighth place finish.

7 – Roberto Rojas
Chilean goalie Roberto Rojas was banned from football for life and his country was kicked out of the 1990 World Cup after he tried to get a qualifier against Brazil abandoned because Chile were losing in a game they needed to win. When a firework was thrown into his penalty box he crashed to the ground, took a razor blade from his glove and slashed his head. Television evidence showed the firework landed nowhere near him and, after appeal, his ban was reduced to two years.

6 – 1919 Chicago White Sox
Modern day baseball is no stranger to accusations of cheating. However, America’s pasttime has been blighted by allegations of corruption throughout its history. One of the most infamous episodes came in 1919 when eight Chicago White Sox players conspired to throw the World Series after allegedly being bribed by gamblers. The players involved were later acquitted of criminal charges after evidence was mysteriously lost prior to the start of their trial but were banned from baseball for life.

5 – Michael Schumacher
He may have won seven Formula 1 titles but Michael Schumacher’s legacy is more heavily influenced by the methods he chose to employ when faced with championship defeat. In 1994, Schumacher derailed Damon Hill’s title hopes by driving into his rival and forcing him to retire in the season’s final race. The dastardly German tried the same trick with Jacques Villeneuve three years later but only succeeded in crippling his own car. Justice was done when Villeneuve won the championship.

4 – Ben Johnson
Athletics has been riddled with so many drug scandals in recent years that world records and medal-winning performances are now viewed with some degree of scepticism. Twenty-one years ago, when Ben Johnson was stripped of his Olympic gold medal for taking anabolic steroids, it was one of the most shocking events in sporting history. Rather than looking at Johnson as a walking cautionary tale, many sprinters followed his example and cheated their way to victory. Most were caught out by ever-improving doping tests.

3 – Boris Onischenko
Attempting to cheat in an Olympic sport is bad enough but perverting the outcome in an ancient sport rooted in chivalry is even worse. Soviet modern pentathlete Boris Onischenko left the 1976 Montreal Olympics in disgrace when it was discovered he had equipped his sword with a button that allowed him to trigger Fencing’s electronic scoring system at will. Onischenko’s technical chicanery was eventually uncovered by Britain’s Jim Fox who reported his doubts over the Soviet’s string of victories. Onischenko’s weapon was replaced, and he was eventually disqualified.

2 – Hansie Cronje
South African captain Hansie Cronje sent shockwaves through cricket when he admitted to repeatedly attempting to fix the outcome of matches at the behest of Indian bookmakers. He was exposed as a liar and a hypocrite when it was revealed he was willing to fix matches for a bribe as small as a leather jacket. That he only asked black teammates to help him carry out his plans made it even worse. A tearful confession proved Cronje was nothing more than a petty, greedy corrupt individual hiding behind a veneer of fake Christian beliefs.

1 – Panama Lewis
Shame on you if you thought I’d have Diego Maradona at number one! El Diego gets a pass from this list as he cheated in the heat of the moment. All footballers cheat at every opportunity and Maradona was no different. It was the fault of the referee and his linesmen for not spotting the ‘Hand of God’ at World Cup 1986.
The Sports Bloke cites boxing trainer Panama Lewis as the worst cheat in the history of sport. Lewis earned lifelong infamy in 1983 when his fighter Lewis Resto faced Billy Collins Jr. Lewis removed most of the padding from Resto’s boxing gloves and soaked the tape that went on his fighter’s hands in plaster of Paris. Unsurprisingly, Resto delivered a brutal ten-round beating to Collins who left the ring with blurred vision and severely damaged face. Collins slumped into depression after the fight and lost his life nine months later in a car crash that many believe to be suicide. Lewis spent a year in prison for fixing the fight and was banned from boxing for life.

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Why the Sports Bloke could never root for Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend got me thinking about my opinions on the former Chicago Bulls star for the first time since he completed his second “three-peat” (© Pat Riley) of NBA championships some 11 years ago.

See, while the world swooned at the clutch shooting, acrobatic dunks, smothering defence and unmatchable will to win of Number 23 through the nineties, I continually struggled to warm to the man who can quite rightfully claim to be among the greatest basketball player in the history of the game.

Watching Jordan give his acceptance speech in Springfield and take time to throw in a few (justified) barbs at Jerry Krause and jokingly chide the ticket prices for the ceremony, I couldn’t help but think there was a better time and place to settle scores and bitch about money. This was supposed to be a celebration, a career-encapsulating honour, yet Jordan still felt compelled to take petty pot-shots. And it reminded me why I could never root for the man, even at the peak of his playing powers.

From my perspective, Jordan was a typically American icon. A born winner, an alpha male, the ultimate competitor. Mike’s presence in the NBA finals guaranteed record-breaking TV ratings and massive revenue from advertisers. America loves a winner so it tuned in again and again to watch the  Bulls demolish the Lakers, the Blazers, the Sonics and the Jazz from 1991 until 1998.

Jordan and the Bulls became the ultimate team for the glory hunters. The team you could support knowing you’d be satisfied at the end of the season. These days you only have to look at the way Red Sox fans outnumber home fans in baseball’s smaller markets like Kansas City and Oakland to see this trend is alive and well in the States.

But while America loves a winner, Britain loves an underdog. Rather than cheer for the predictable outcome of a Bulls victory, I wanted to see their opponents do the impossible and defeat Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and coach Phil Jackson. Surely Payton and Kemp or Stockton and Malone overcoming Jordan’s brilliance and dominance would linger longer in the mind than watching another Bulls triumph? Was there any real victory in a team led by one of the greatest ever players asserting their superiority over an eminently conquerable foe?

Let me say again, Jordan was a superb player accurately rated as one of the best of all time.

But he was so much better than his rivals that, for me, there was precious little entertainment  in watching him achieve what he did. He was born to win, he trained to win, he was supposed to win, he did win. Six times in eight years. And then he was gone.

So, I said it. And remember, it’s on me. As a Brit, I’ve been bought up to love the underdog and  dream of the unthinkable upset. For this reason, Jordan has to join Michael Schumacher, Roger Federer and Sir Alex Ferguson on my Mount Rushmore of sporting greats whose utter dominance meant I could never truly love them.

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