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A compendium of corruption: Some of the notorious (and some alleged) scandals in sports history

This week's crisis in international soccer, featuring accusations of bribery, is just the latest instance in sports' long and sordid history, dating at least to the 1919 Black Sox.

June 04, 2011|By Douglas Farmer
  • Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston after knocking him out one minute into their title rematch.
Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston after knocking… (John Rooney / Associated…)

FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter won reelection Wednesday the old-fashioned way — after his only opponent pulled out amid allegations of attempted bribery.

That's not to say Blatter wouldn't have won anyway, had the election been held before the charges and subsequent suspension of his rival, Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, became known. It was that kind of week for FIFA, filled with accusations — including claims of Qatar's "buying" the 2022 World Cup — and leaving soccer fans with the reminder of a dirty, not-so-little secret: Corruption in sports has existed longer than most can remember.

"There are places in the world where giving officials money in order to get things accomplished is also ingrained in the government way of doing things," said Ed Edmonds, a sports law professor at Notre Dame. "Doing business in certain countries works that way. . . . In almost all incidents, it is the money."

The money has led to bribes in the domestic and international sports world, including one documented case of a team's intentionally losing the World Series, and many other claims of conspiracy that will probably remain unconfirmed.

"From an economic standpoint, the reward to winning is so high, there are just enormous incentives to cheat within sports," said Lee Ohanian, a UCLA professor of economics. "The payoffs for victory versus defeat are just remarkably higher, and because of this, you tend to see lots of cheating and corruption."

Or put another way, just follow the money.

So come along as we revisit some of the biggest sports corruption scandals (ranked for your discussion pleasure), both real and rumored.

In some incidents, the cheating and corruption has led to teams losing or trimming leads, as in three of our five cases of confirmed corruption.

And other times, it is the man in charge who turns out to be the most corrupt, as urban legend has it in at least three of our five cases of rumored corruption.

Feel free to bring along your own conspiracy theory in this look at a century of sports and corruption.

Confirmed Corruption

Up to 200 European soccer games rigged (2009)

Corruption in soccer is not limited to FIFA, as seemingly every year one club or another is accused of throwing a game. In this instance, though, it was way more than one club.

Some 200 matches spread over nine countries may have been influenced so gamblers could cash in. In a sport known for its indiscretions, this deception was described by Peter Limacher, a spokesman for European's governing body UEFA, as "the biggest match-fixing scandal ever to hit Europe."

Salt Lake City Olympics (1998, 2002)

In 1998 it was revealed the Salt Lake City bid had bribed at least 10 voters — akin to the current accusations against Qatar and its winning 2022 World Cup bid.

Then in 2002, a French figure skating judge allegedly was pressured by the head of the French skating organization to vote for the Russian pairs entry as part of a deal in which the French were to receive reciprocal treatment in the ice dance competition. At first it cost the Canadian pair a gold medal.

The IOC later awarded gold medals to both the Russian and Canadian couples, and the French judge and official were suspended for three years and banned from the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Black Sox (1919)

Eight Chicago White Sox players harbored such bitterness over their small salaries that they lost the World Series on purpose.

The heavily favored White Sox fell to the Cincinnati Reds, five games to three, in a best-of-nine series after a New York organized crime figure promised the players a total of $100,000 to lose.

Though the players — including legendary outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson — were acquitted of all charges, baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis felt their guilt was certain and banned all eight from the game for life. In the decades following, five of the eight admitted guilt.

CCNY Point-Shaving (1950-1951)

The season after City College of New York won both the NCAA and National Invitation tournaments, seven players were accused of point-shaving and arrested. In the end, 33 players from seven schools were implicated in the scandal.

The corruption had lasted at least four seasons, and the total number of "fixed" games was never truly known. Madison Square Garden banned CCNY, and the NCAA did not return its championship game to the New York area until 1996. In addition, Kentucky's 1952-53 season was cancelled.

SMU Death Penalty (1987)

When the NCAA handed Southern Methodist the "death penalty" in 1987, it ended a decade of corruption in the program. The NCAA had imposed sanctions against SMU five times between 1974 and 1985.

When SMU's board of governors met following the 1985 season, led by chairman Bill Clements, governor of Texas from 1979 to 1983, it was said the program had "a payroll to meet." In the following year, 13 players reportedly were paid a total of $61,000.

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