Snooker is in shock after world number one John Higgins was reportedly recorded agreeing to take a €300,000 (£261,000) bribe to lose frames in future matches.
It has to be said that Higgins is strenuously denying the allegations, first published in the News Of The World. He claims that pressure from the Russian Mafia made him pretend to agree to the deal in order to escape a situation where he feared for his life. A full investigation has now been started by the sport’s governing body.
But whatever eventually happens, the allegations will cause many people to wonder whether the results they see in sport have always been arrived at honestly, or whether individual cheating has influenced the outcome. Or even whether financial interests have mandated mandate that a predetermined outcome should be reached.
Snooker has had previous allegations made against it, with what are usually described as “unusual betting patterns” being reported on the outcome of individual matches. Heavy betting has, on occasions, been recorded on particular results and this has placed some professionals under suspicion when the bets came up.
But there are few sports without stains on their characters.
There have been clams of “inducements” or “hospitality” influencing the selection of Olympic host cities in the past. And many procedures were changed following the award of the Winter Olympics of 2002 to Salt Lake City when top officials were found to have made great deal of money from the result.
On the track, Canada’s Ben Johnson is perhaps the most famous sporting cheat after his drug fuelled world record in the 100m final in 1988. He was later stripped of his title and banned from athletics. And several others have also received suspensions for drug use, or for avoiding drugs tests, since.
Drugs allegations have also been made in baseball, with some of the greatest hitters in the history of the sport thought to have used steroids. Barry Bonds’ record for scoring more career home runs than anyone else in the game is widely regarded as tainted for this reason.
And in football, past World Cups have seen players sent home for failing drugs tests: Scotland’s Willie Johnstone in 1978 and Diego Maradona of Argentina in 1994.
In Italian football, a match fixing scandal in 2006 saw champions Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina all relegated and AC Milan hit by points deduction. Marseilles of France have also had a league title taken away after being found to have fixed matches.
Former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar spent years trying to clear his name after a newspaper published a series of articles in 1994 alleging that he took “bungs” for match-fixing.
Horse racing, the Tour de France and Formula 1 racing have all been the subject of various allegations in the past. Doping, fixed results and illegal payments have featured strongly.
Rugby in England had its Bloodgate controversy where a player from Harlequins used a fake blood capsule to fake an injury in order to make a temporary substitution. And there have since been claims that this is common practice in the sport.
Even golf, a game where the sportsmanship of players is probably second to none, has seen a player banned for cheating. Back in 1985, David Robertson was reported for marking his ball nearer the hole than it actually landed. He wasn’t even subtle about it – gaining up to 20 feet by moving his marker around the green with his putter.
Two stranger incidents have also been reported.
In 1980 unheralded runner Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon before any other woman in what was a shock result. But she looked so fresh that questions were asked, and it was eventually discovered that she took a short cut – on the subway!
Even the Paralympics are not immune to cheating. The Spanish basketball team that won gold in the intellectual disability tournament at the 2000 games was later found to be composed of players with no disability whatsoever.
Sport is big business. And where there are massive sums of money involved there will always be those who want to influence results by any means necessary. The various sporting bodies will point to the many occasions where attempts to subvert their game by foul means have been discovered – but have there been other plots so successful that the perpetrators have never been found out?
We would all like to have a Corinthian view of sports, with honest contests taking place between hard working heroes giving their all. But sadly the reality may be very different – some of the time at least.