The dark side

Betfair, an online gambling company, declared void all bets on the match between Davydenko (above) and Martin Vassallo Arguello in August 2007 after unusually large amounts were wagered on the lowly-ranked Arguello even after he had lost the first set 6-2.-AP Betfair, an online gambling company, declared void all bets on the match between Davydenko (above) and Martin Vassallo Arguello in August 2007 after unusually large amounts were wagered on the lowly-ranked Arguello even after he had lost the first set 6-2.

The major controversies that rocked sports in 2007. A recap by K. Keerthivasan.

Fans, by and large, are no longer shocked by scandals in sport. They have come to realise money’s vice-like grip on sport at the highest level, they have grasped its implications and ramifications.

The fierce loyalty that sportspersons once had for their sport doesn’t exist any more. Perhaps, it’s the sign of the times. Match-fixing in cricket was a big eye opener. It enabled us to realise that it was not always fair and square in sp ort, as seen from the stands or television.

However, competitive sport continues to excite, provoke and agitate us in equal measure. Sport in its purest form is absolute nirvana.

Controversies and scandals are as old as sport itself. It’s just that with so much of media coverage now, they become as clear as daylight to the public.

Sepp Blatter, president of the International Football Federation (FIFA), said there was too much greed in the game. “Football is now a multi-billion-dollar global industry. Unfortunately, the haphazard way in which money has flowed into the game — reminiscent of a misguided wild-west style of capitalism — is having some seriously harmful effects,” he wrote in the ‘Financial Times’ (London).

This syndrome is pretty much applicable to every other popular sport, no matter which part of the world it is played.

Numerous international athletes have been attracted to performance-enhancing drugs like moth to the fire, and have had to pay the price in the end. It’s been a symbiotic relationship, steroids and athletes. Examples are numerous, but the latest and the most popular casualty was the charming Marion Jones, who in October 2007 admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs after vehemently denying it for years. She tearfully admitted at a press conference: “With a great amount of shame... I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust... and you have the right to be angry with me... I have let my country down and I have let myself down.”

The International Olympic Committee recently stripped Jones of her five Olympic medals (won in 2000) and obliterated her name from the record books. She has also been barred from attending Beijing Olympics in any capacity, and IOC has said it could bar her from future Games too. Easily, this could be ranked as the biggest shame of the year.

A simple and innocent query that every sports lover asks is: why do athletes take drugs? For one, the stakes are enormous. When an athlete puts as much effort and time in preparation for the big events as everybody else, a small injection or popping a pill can make all the difference, in finishing the 100m dash ahead of others by a microsecond or jumping a centimetre higher than the rest of the field.

The ‘smart’ coaches, trained as they are in the art of masking drug use, make all efforts to ensure their wards buck the system. More often than not, some get caught though others manage to escape the rigorous checks.

The other issue that dogged sport was ‘fixing’. How could a tennis player deliberately throw his match away, or dump his volleys intentionally into the net to lose a match?

Impossible, you might argue. But the Nikolay Davydenko affair made us revise our opinions and beliefs.

Betfair, an online gambling company, declared void all bets on the Davydenko-Martin Vassallo Arguello match in August 2007 after unusually large amounts were wagered on the lowly-ranked Arguello even after he had lost the first set 6-2. (Davydenko retired in the third set trailing 1-2.) Since then several players, though none of them are ranked very high, have reported that they had been approached and offered money to fix matches. But nobody has been named yet.

Davydenko steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. The matter, ATP has said, is closed, as it has found no evidence.

Motorsport has been more about rivalry between individuals and teams — Schumacher and Alonso; Hamilton and Alonso; Ferrari and McLaren; Renault and Ferrari. But the team engineers too play a major part in the race, which lends Formula One that extra zip and spark.

The technical data which the team engineers possess are very confidential. But the sport was rocked by McLaren’s espionage scandal, when the British Formula One team received confidential technical information from a discontented Ferrari engineer. The sport suffered a further jolt as Renault, the French F1 team, was accused of receiving confidential technical information from the McLaren team. In the first case, FIA slapped a £50 million penalty on McLaren and stripped the team of its Constructors’ Championship points. However, in the second case, FIA decided not to impose any penalty.

The FIA issued a statement detailing the reasons behind the World Motor Sport Council’s (WMSC) decision not to impose a penalty on Renault despite finding the team in breach of the International Sporting Code. The Council said there was “insufficient evidence to establish that the information was used in such a way as to interfere with or to have an impact on the championship”.

Danish cyclist Mikhail Rasmussen of Rabobank team tested positive to further tarnish the image of cycling, a sport that is fast gaining notoriety for doping. Floyd Landis and Iban Mayo were among the popular cyclists who were caught for using performance enhancing drugs.