As I no longer have any contemporary accounts of the life and times of a bar owner, (‘Tales From a Barfly’) , to entertain you, today sees the return of my regular articles on current events and matters of general interest, under my somewhat cryptic heading of ‘Mobi-Bytes’.
I am kicking off the return of Mobi-Bytes with a long article on a subject that has concerned me for many years – the cheating and corruption in sport.
I hope you enjoy it.
Sporting Cheats – Do We Deserve Them?
I am not a particular fan of Greg Dyke, either in his previous role as Director General of the BBC, or in his current incarnation as Chairman of the English Football Association, but his recent comment that the FIFA’s report into World Cup corruption is ‘pointless’ and ‘a joke’, is not far off the mark.
The sad fact remains that just about everyone who follows or is employed in world-wide football – from exalted FIFA members, to lowly, amateur players, to armchair football fans – all know full well that what Dyke has said is unquestionably true.
Unfortunately, the autocratic Sepp Blatter, shameful head of FIFA, runs his world football organisation with more authority than the boss of the Cosa Nostra has over his Sicilian criminal generals. For decades, nobody has the courage or wherewithal to challenge him and his utterly corrupt empire.
He was re-elected to the post as head of FIFA in 2011 for a further four years after promising the European members of FIFA that this would be his last term, and that when the term expired, at the age of 79 he would retire from public life.
Now he has reneged on his solemn promises and will run again next year and almost certainly become re-elected for another 4 year term, such is his hold over a vast majority of FIFA members.
The FIFA report, which is now being challenged by the investigator upon which the report was based, is a joke because the likes of England are being criticised for their transparency. The FA opened their records to the investigators and they fully cooperated in the investigation of any minor transgressions that may have inadvertently committed; whereas the likes of Qatar and Russia, who refused to co-operate with the investigation, have been declared free of corruption.
Can you believe that the Russians told the investigator that they were unable to make the records of the their bid team’s emails available as their computers’ hard disks had all been destroyed….
The English FA have been roundly criticised for funding a $55,000 dinner for Caribbean football officials, yet for some unfathomable reason it has been deemed perfectly acceptable for Qatar to spend $1.8m on a conference for African football officials.
$55k for Caribbean Football Officials – WRONG!
$1.8M for African Football Officials – RIGHT!
FIFA say there was no problem with Qatar’s seven-figure bankrolling of a congress in Angola but that England’s much less extravagant support for a dinner hosted by Jack Warner in Trinidad in 2010 “damaged the integrity of the bidding process”.
To muddy the waters even further, we learn in today’s press that the FA did indeed seek approval from FIFA to hold the dinner in question on more than one occasion.
So those who have owned up have been condemned, while those who not only refused to give evidence, but also deleted all the incriminating files from their computers are declared completely innocent of all charges.
And we are still faced with the utterly preposterous prospect of staging the world’s largest sports tournament in a tiny desert kingdom, owned and run by a despotic dynasty, in 50 degrees Celsius heat. Qatar – a country where alcohol is banned, where women are subjugated as third class citizens and where gays are routinely thrown in jail.
If the selection of Qatar to host the 2018 World Cup , and for Russia to host 2022 tournament isn’t totally mired in corruption, (and I’m not talking about a $1.8 dinner, but literally millions of dollars changing hands), then I’ll eat my proverbial hat.
Are any of the constituent members of FIFA prepared to stand up and be counted? Do they even care?
Not really – not a jot!
On a much smaller scale, but nevertheless still sickening, we have the case of virtuoso violinist-cum ‘Olympic Skier’, Vanessa Mae.
Unlike Greg Dyke, I have always been a fan of the gorgeous Vanessa; first and foremost, because she is an Asian ‘siren’ who is tantalisingly sexy, especially when she dons her slinky, erotic outfits to perform her redoubtable skills on the violin.
There is little doubt that she has been the darling of thousands of hot-blooded young men across the world who would give their right hand to touch and caress her gorgeous body.
So what on earth has this amazing and exciting musician got to do with corruption in sport?
Well, it transpires that little Vanessa has been a keen skier since childhood, and her dream has always been to compete at the winter Olympic games.
In the world of skiing, Vanessa is nothing more than just an average, ‘journeyman’ amateur; but that didn’t deter her from her lofty ambitions to compete in the world’s premier Olympic skiing event, the Giant Slalom.
The first step was to find a country who would accept her as a competitor. She was born in Singapore, is the daughter of a Singaporean mother, a Thai Father and was adopted by a British Lawyer who moved her and her family to England when she was 4 years old and became a British citizen.
But there is no way on God’s earth that The UK would accept her as an Olympic competitor.
I can only assume that she held dual Thai citizenship by virtue of her Thai father, and I wouldn’t rule out some kind of corruption involved in the granting of dual Thai citizenship, as on the face of it she doesn’t appear to have the necessary credentials.
It is also worth noting that like Tiger Woods before her, she always played down her connections to Thailand and rarely, if ever, visited the country. In other words, she, (and Tiger), weren’t in any way proud of their Thai heritage.
But, of course, anything is possible in Thailand if you have money, and along with her request to be granted Thai citizenship (just for the Olympics), went Thailand’s approval for Vanessa to represent Thailand in the winter Olympics. After all, the whole nation would be able to bask in Vanessa’s reflected glory.
Then her management company went into action.
They found a corruptible country – Slovenia – where the necessary qualifying races could be held – under the auspices of Thai Olympic Committee in its capacity as the FIS member National Ski Association, and also under the paid instructions of Vanessa’s management company.
We now know from the report issued by the International Ski Federation that without manipulation she would not have achieved the necessary FIS point performance level to be eligible to participate in the Olympic Winter Games.
Further, the enquiry panel “found to its comfortable satisfaction that the results of the four ladies’ giant slalom races that took place on 18 and 19 January at Krvavec, Slovenia were manipulated”.
- The results of two giant slalom races on 19 January included a competitor who was not present at, and did not participate in the Krvavec competitions.
- Another competitor was placed second in one race despite the fact she fell. Her time is understood to have been adjusted afterwards by more than 10 seconds.
- At least one competitor started away from the starting gate outside the automatic timing wand that was manually opened by the starter when she was already on the course.
- A previously retired competitor with the best FIS points in the competition took part for the sole purpose of lowering the penalty to the benefit the participants in the races.
- The weather conditions were so bad that no regular race could be held and “any comparable competition in Slovenia would have been cancelled” according to the competition referee.
- The races courses were not changed for the second runs as is required by the FIS rules.
- Approximately 23 competitors participated in the two races held on 18th January 2014, however at least two competitors on the official results were not in attendance.
I mean…honestly… you couldn’t make it up. If you watched such an event unfold in a ‘Carry On’ movies, you would say: ‘What utter balderdash!’
As most of you probably are aware, our darling little Vanessa duly went to the Sochi Olympics as a competitor for Thailand, using the last name of her Thai father, Vanakorn.
She finished last of 67 competitors in the two-run giant slalom.
After the second run, Vanessa said,
“You’ve got the elite skiers of the world and then you’ve got some mad old woman like me trying to make it down. With my limited experience at my age I’m happy I made it down,” she said. “It was kind of rock and roll because I nearly crashed out three times.”
Poor Vanessa has now been banned from competing in international competition for four years for ‘fixing’ races. Five officials from Slovenia and Italy were also banned for between one and two years for their role in the scandal.
I doubt whether Vanessa will lose much sleep over her banning, as she has probably already ticked ‘Winter Olympic participation’ on her ‘Bucket List.’
I trust that the banned Slovenia officials were adequately compensated by Vanessa’s management company for their transgressions and subsequent punishments.
There have been so many cheats in sports through the years that it is difficult to know who is a genuine sportsperson and who is cheating.
Drug enhanced athletes are the scourge of virtually all modern sports, and we are now learning that even when drug cheats stop using their muscle building drugs, that the effects remain with them for many years to come, still giving them a competitive edge over their clean, rival competitors.
Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin are just such athletes, who have served bans for taking drugs and are at the twilight of careers. Yet they are now running faster than ever.
How are we supposed to cheer such athletes?
Never was there a drug cheat so vile as the justifiably vilified ‘hero’, Lance Armstrong, who won no less than 7 Tour de France races, the most prestigious annual cycle race in the world.
But despite his protests that he had won his record seven titles fairly, he was dogged by suspicions of using performance-boosting drugs.
In 2012 the US anti-doping agency found that Armstrong had engaged in the most sophisticated doping programme the sport had ever known. He was stripped of his Tour titles and banned from competition for life. He later confessed in a TV interview with Oprah Winfrey.
What drives these cheats?
Prestige and money – not necessarily in that order.
Apart from fixing races, and fixing the tournament venues, other notable cheats include the Spanish Paralympic basketball team, who won the 2000 Olympics in the ‘intellectually impaired’ category when only two out of the team’s 12 players had a learning difficulty…..
Two of the team had an IQ of less than 70, as required, but the rest competed with fake medical certificates…
Can you believe it? This was the Paralympics’ – for disabled people! What twisted mind decided that it would be a good idea to use people who are not disabled to win a gold medal?
Probably the award for the most horrendous cheating effort of all time goes to American ice skater Tonia Harding whose husband and bodyguard hired a man to break rival Nancy Kerrigan’s leg so she couldn’t skate. Yes! Really!
Kerrigan’s leg was only bruised in the attack, but she still had to withdraw from the figure-skating championships, which Harding went on to win.
Harding’s husband, the bodyguard, the attacker and getaway driver were all jailed for the attack. Harding was fined for conspiring to hinder the prosecution, lost her title and got a US figure-skating life ban.
But do we, the public, deserve the cheats that we get? Are we so desperate for sporting heroes that we are willing to turn a blind eye the blindingly obvious – the fact that our own particular hero has almost certainly been cheating.
Surely millions of cycling enthusiasts must have known that Armstrong was cheating?
I will never forget the Irish swimmer, Michelle Smith, who came from nowhere to win a stunning three Olympic gold medals in the Atlanta Olympic Games of 1996.
At the time I was doing a lot of work at one of my employer’s subsidiaries in Dublin, and the Irish lads were going absolutely ballistic about Michelle Smith’s amazing successes.
I started to read about the background of this swimmer and learnt that she was 26 years old, (past the age retirement for most swimmers), had long been considered a plodder on the international ranks, (not even in the top 25) ,when suddenly she shaved a whopping 21 seconds off her best time in the 400m medley in Atlanta, taking gold and putting Irish sports fans in sporting ‘Seventh Heaven’.
Two more gold medals followed and I soon made no bones about my belief that she must have been on drugs.
My Irish colleagues were aghast at my disgustingly anti-Irish assertions and considered me a thoroughly bad loser.
Ireland, after all, had only won a total of two Olympic gold medals since the second world war, yet Smith had won three in four days. A country which didn’t even have a 50 metre pool had suddenly spawned the best swimmer in the world.
But there was an elephant that no one in Ireland wanted to admit. Irish television’s swimming expert, Gary O’Toole, an ex-swimmer who had become a physician, had more than a slight suspicion that something wasn’t quite right.
“I looked at her and said, ‘My God, what have you been taking?’,” O’Toole recalled years later. “Something was going on. I said to her, ‘Well, whatever you’re doing, be careful.’ She didn’t say anything to me.”
At the time he was told by the national broadcaster to keep such thoughts to himself when analysing Smith’s victories.
As he explained to the Chicago Tribune in 2000: “The directive came down that nobody was to discuss drugs and Michelle Smith on national television.”
We later learned that she had been living in Holland with her future husband, Eric de Bruin, a Dutch discus thrower who was under a four-year suspension for using drugs.
During his suspension, de Bruin gave an interview in which he said: “Who says doping is unethical? Sport is by definition dishonest”.
The world’s media began to direct its gaze more closely on Smith: they compared photographs of her from 1992 to 1996 and noticed a huge growth in her arms; they wondered how somebody could improve so much at an age when swimmers traditionally decline.
Even the Irish press eventually started to ask questions. Paul Kimmage, an ex-cyclist who wrote a controversial book exposing drug use in his former sport, was one of the first to express his doubts.
Writing for the biggest selling newspaper in the country – the Sunday Independent – Kimmage told the nation to “take their heads out of the sand” when it came to the Smith issue. Another high-profile Irish journalist, Tom Humphries, briefly quit his position at the Irish Times because they refused to publish two columns of his that questioned Smith’s achievements.
In 1998, FINA decided to call at De Bruin’s house in Ireland looking for a sample. They initially couldn’t get past the gates and then when they finally got inside Smith went missing for “four to six minutes” before finally handing over her urine sample.
The drug testing officials said the sample smelt of whisky and when it finally reached Barcelona for testing, it was found to have “unequivocal signs of adulteration”. Forensic scientists later testified that had she digested the amount of whisky needed to produce a sample like that she would have died.
As a result Smith was banned for four years, and retired from swimming, but she still owns her Olympic medals because she did not test positive in competition.
Despite the fact that Michelle Smith (now De Bruin), is still officially a triple gold medal Olympic champion, she has become the ‘invisible woman’ and is arguably the least celebrated triple gold medallist in Olympic history.
I could compile an encyclopaedia devoted to sporting cheats.
We can all laugh at Vanessa and the others but the plain truth is that these people – and so many more beside – are ruining sport as a spectacle and are leaving us, the sporting public, confused and bereft of true heroes.
We have probably reached to the point when none of us really know whether we are feting real a sporting hero or just cheering on another cheat.
As for football – or ‘soccer’ as our friends across the Atlantic call it – corruption at the very top surely opens the way for corruption all the way down; to the professional players and to the kids who play football for fun in the local park.
The other week I watched n English Premier League football match in which a player was sent off for committing a vicious tackle that could have easily have broken his opponents’ leg. There was no disputing the foul, yet when he walked slowly off the field, all the home supporters rose to their feet and cheered him madly. They cheered and clapped him like he had just won the game for them, and he smiled, turned and waved back – a man who had just tried to break an opponent’s leg!
Everyone knows that football is rife with corruption – from match and spot fixing, to the divers, to the professional foulers, and God knows what else besides.
And I haven’t even mentioned what is quite possibly the most corrupt sport in the world – our beloved game of cricket. It has reached the point when we can barely credit the results of matches; such is the all-pervading power of corruption in this popular sport.
Unfortunately, we all take our sporting lead from our elders, and nowhere is this more true than in the corrupt, rarefied world of professional sport, where so few of us are prepared to gainsay what is happening before our very eyes.