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Sports corruption has been rife for decades. The integrity and character of the players, referees and officials are often placed second best to the prospect of exorbitant amounts of cash. The Hansie Cronje cricket scandal has highlighted the unattractive – and illicit – side of sport.
Sports scandals and fixed matches are often so controversial and outrageous that they are analyzed for decades afterward.
Perhaps the most infamous of American sporting scandals is when, in 1919, the Chicago White Sox were banned for life for conspiring to throw the match against the Cincinnati Reds during the World Series of the same year. The lucrative prospect of an $ 80,000 fee ensured the Sox lost the best-of-nine series 5-3.
Similarly, the legendary “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was banned for his part in the affair. But baseball enthusiasts and campaigners are still fighting for his induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame to this day.
Even boxing has been thrown into disrepute amidst allegations of forfeiting matches, the best example involving one of the greatest boxers of all time. Muhammed Ali, fighting as Cassius Clay in 1964, was up against number-one contender Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship title. Clay won when, in the 8th round, Liston failed to come out of his corner, claiming a shoulder injury.
The following year at a rematch, Liston was knocked out by a “phantom punch” in the first round. People still claim he feigned both injuries.
Sports that involve high betting status, such as horse and greyhound racing, are inevitably susceptible to the illegal workings of match-fixers.
Australia’s horseracing fraternity was thrown into disrepute in 1984, when a poorly performing horse was traded for an in-form one, at the last minute. Bold Personality ran for Fine Cotton, but the officials soon spotted the difference – Bold Personality was a bay and Fine Cotton was a brown. The fixers stood in line to gain over $A1m from the win.
But sometimes the rules play an indirect part in the fixing of matches. In the 1978 soccer World Cup, Argentina and Brazil were at the top of their league. To progress to the next round, they had to beat a Peru 4-0. Much to everyone’s amazement, they beat the Peruvians 6-0, hence dismissing the Brazilians and going on to beat Holland 3-1 in the final.
At the next World Cup, this time in Spain, a similar event took place. If West Germany beat Austria 1-0 in their league, both teams would progress through to the next round and knock Algeria out of the competition in the process. Germany scored midway through the first half, and for the rest of the time they leisurely passed the ball between them, waiting for the final whistle to be blown. Spectators were outraged but, as it was totally legal, no action was ever taken.
Team matches are harder to fix because more players need to be involved. When a team is found out to be part of the scandal, the headlines fill the papers, but when only a handful of players are involved, the identification and inquiry into the allegations are a lot more difficult.