The 10 biggest sporting scandals in history

In amongst the inspirational and aspirational stories there remain irrevocable tarnishes on the legacies of almost every sport. Match-fixing, doping, criminal charges and refereeing decisions have plagued the history of many, and here we explore 10 of the highest profile incidents.


Tiger Woods of the United States gestures to a fan to be quiet from the fifth green during first round play at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament in Akron, Ohio August 6, 2009.  REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES SPORT GOLF) - RTR26GXI

Thanksgiving 2009 – Elin Nordegren, Woods’ wife, chases him out of their home with, of all things, a golf club, upon learning he had been unfaithful. Since 1999 he had not had a year go by without winning at least one of golf’s four majors. He won 14 between 1997 and 2008. Erin feared there was another woman, Rachel Uchitel – she had missed the mark however. After he crashed his escalade into a fire hydrant running from Nordegren the news broke numerous of escorts, porn stars, strippers, waitresses and exotic dancers he had elicited sexual relations with. He has never won a Major since.


Eufemiano Fuentes - Operacion Puerto

In 2006, police raids of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes’ residences found 211 blood bags implicating around 35 athletes. Whilst many cyclists were found amongst his clients, Fuentes insisted they were not the only sport involved, citing “all types of athletes – footballers, athletes, cyclists, a boxer and tennis players.” But after threats on his life and those of his family emerged he refrained from detailing these. Ultimately, in one of the most controversial decisions in sporting history, a judge ordered the remaining samples be destroyed, with only cyclists implicated. Speculation thereafter plagued several individuals and organisations, including unsubstantiated accusations such as Le Monde’s false claim that they possessed Fuentes’ ‘seasonal preparation plans’ for Spanish clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.


FIFA president Sepp Blatter attends a press conference on 30 May 2015 in Zurich after being re-elected during the FIFA Congress. Blatter said he was "shocked" at the way the US judiciary has targeted football's world body and slammed what he called a "hate" campaign by Europe's football leaders.

The fallout is ongoing from investigations into Sepp Blatter’s reign as FIFA President. 14 people were indicted in connection to bribery charges associated with a variety of incidents. Amongst these was the 2022 Qatar World Cup Bid and a yet unnamed sports equipment company alleged to have paid $40million in bribes to sponsor the Brazil National Football Team. $10million is believed to have been exchanged to attain the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and a Swiss Criminal Inquiry continues into the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, with the 2014 World Cup also under FBI investigation. In total 18 individuals and 2 corporations have been indicted, involving 9 FIFA Officials and 5 businessmen.


HOLD FOR RELEASE WITH STORY: MITCHELL/ - Former US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace and U.S. Senator from Maine George Mitchell in his office at DLA Piper, a law firm in New York during an interview with Reuters, June 9, 2011.  REUTERS/Mike Segar   (UNITED STATES)

Democratic United States Senator George J. Mitchell’s 21-month investigation into the use of human growth hormone and anabolic steroids in Major League baseball sent shockwaves through the sport in December 2007. 89 MLB players were alleged to have used performance-enhancing drugs. When mandatory random testing came into effect in 2004, reports suggested the undetectable HGH became the drug of choice, with at least one player from each of the 30 MLB teams involved. Of the 89, the highest profile were Roger Clemens, Andy Petite, Miguel Tejada and Eric Gagne. Now 47 different kinds of steroids and 30 different sorts of stimulants are amongst the 7 kinds of abusive drugs the MLB can detect, with a first positive test garnering a 50-game ban and a third a lifetime suspension.


Floyd Landis

In the wake of Lance Armstrong’s retirement from cycling, his former lieutenant Floyd Landis, a talented rider in his own right, took up the mantle of America’s great hope. In the 2006 Tour de France, after a stunning comeback performance on Stage 17, he tested positive for abnormal testosterone/epitestosterone (T/E) ratios four times the maximum allowable level. Despite winning the Tour before trial he was eventually found guilty of doping by the hearing committee – Landis was banned for two years. After extensive litigation, involving around $1million Landis is believed to have raised through the ‘Floyd Fairness Fund’ and a $2million bill, he reached an agreement with federal prosecutors. Having retired in 2011, it is Landis’ claims that ultimately contributed to the investigation of Lance Armstrong.



During the 2009 Heineken Cup Quarter Final, Harlequins wing Tom Williams faked a blood injury to enable Nick Evans to return to play. Ultimately, further investigation exposed four similar incidents in Harlequins recent history, resulting initially in a 12-month ban for Williams, a 3-year ban for director of rugby Dean Richards, and a 2-year ban for physio Steph Brennan. The club chairman tendered his resignation and the club barely escaped being thrown out of the Heineken Cup. In a stroke of Karma their opposition, Leinster, would go on to win the game 6-5 and subsequently go all the way to Heineken Cup victory for the first time.


Hand of God

Maradona’s second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup Quarter Final was one of the greatest of all time. Just 3 minutes prior he had scored the most infamous. Amidst the backdrop of The Falklands conflict this caused uproar, with Maradona later stating “although we had said before the game that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas war, we knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys there, killed them like little birds – and this was revenge.” Maradona’s teammates initially did not even celebrate, with the Argentinian beckoning them in order to convince the referee. It overshadowed his 60-yard dribble and score just minutes later, but this was ultimately voted the ‘Goal of the Century’ in 2002, ironically beating a goal scored by Michael Owen against the same opposition in the 1998 World Cup into second place.


Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan avoid each other during a training session for the 1994 Olympics.

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were fierce rivals for the US National Figure Skating Championships but nobody realised just how fierce until Kerrigan, then the US’s best female figure skater and a gold medal favourite for the 1994 Olympics, was attacked and injured by an unidentified man. Her Doctor later stated “he was clearly trying to debilitate her”. Just months earlier Harding had reported a death threat which had caused her to withdraw from her regional championships. Ultimately it was found that Harding, her former husband, bodyguard and two others had hatched a plot to take her competition out of play and she was barred from all amateur skating competition.


OJ Simpson

The OJ Simpson murder case became the most publicised criminal trial in American history. When two bodies were found outside his ex-wife’s Bundy Drive condo in LA, a presumed suicide note and police pursuit, viewed live on television and involving around 20 helicopters, LAPD detective Tom Lange convinced Simpson not to commit suicide over his cell phone. After 8 months of deliberation and to the dismay of many, Simpson was acquitted. Dubbed the ‘Trial of the Century’ it prompted national surveys, which highlighted the differing views of white and black Americans over the professional football star’s guilt. He was tried on two counts of murder – those of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ronald Lyle Goldman in June 1994 – but it took a civil trial, in which he paid $40million total to their families, before any form of guilt was truly realised.


Lance Armstrong, founder of the LIVESTRONG foundation, takes part in a special session regarding cancer in the developing world during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 22, 2010.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS SPORT) - RTXSJ9T

Interviewing with Oprah Winfrey in January 2013, Lance Armstrong exposed what was possibly the greatest doping scandal of all, when he confessed to using banned performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career, including EPO, HGH and blood doping. Once the darling of the American public, it represented a huge fall from grace for the seven-times Tour de France Champion. Federal investigations alongside press and commission evidence forced Armstrong into a corner. Since then, and amidst a fight to avoid leaking millions in prize money and damages payments, he remains convinced he won his jerseys fairly, inferring the entire peloton was doping and that he was simply levelling the playing field. With his old teams implicated and 14 of the past 25 winners having either confessed to or tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, it is very possible this is the case. Between 1998 and 2010 it is thought just one Tour was won by a clean rider.

By Dan Cater

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