Cheating has been present in life for eternity, and that includes sport. If a coach/athlete can see a quicker route to the top then there have been some high profile cases where they will take such a route. Take Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson for example. In the 1988 summer Olympics he ran the 100m in 9.79 seconds, breaking his own world record, but was later found out to have taken steroids to achieve this result. He wasn’t the only athlete taking steroids in the 1980’s, in fact it seems that most of that 100m final field were on drugs and that was his defence for his actions. Some examples of cheating are more subtle and some don’t even benefit the team/individual. Nelson Piquet Jr deliberately crashed during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix so that his team-mate Fernando Alonso could win the race. Pakistan cricketers deliberately bowled no-balls at certain points as they had been given bribes by a bookmaker to spot fix. My point is that cheating is wide ranged, across all sports and is more than just drugs. But arguably none are as big as the Lance Armstrong scandal.
If you don’t know who Lance Armstrong is then (where have you been for the past twenty odd years?) he was an American cyclist who won the Tour de France for 7 years in a row between 1999 and 2005. Yesterday, he admitted on television to have taken drugs to gain an advantage and control the result of every race. While this is not a new revelation, it is the first time that he has admitted to the charges. This is a similar example to Ben Johnson in the fact that at the time there were fewer clean cyclists then drugged ones but Mr Armstrong just did it better than anyone else. His cycling team, US Postal, has been accused of running the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping campaign that cycling has ever had. They dominated the sport the way that Spain dominates international football and my question is, could a scandal this size hit football?
I should start by saying that I do not believe Spain took drugs to win the World Cup and European Championships, there is no evidence (that I have found) to suggest this. I don’t even think drugs will have a big impact in football like they do in cycling, in cycling stamina is a lot more important than it is in football. That isn’t to say that there haven’t been any drug cases in football, a quick look down Wikipedia’s doping cases page shows that certain individuals have been found guilty of a range of drug offences ranging from Cocaine to Steroids, such as the famous example of Adrain Mutu testing positive for Cocaine. There is also cases of famous footballers missing drug tests (Rio Ferdinand) leading to questions about whether they are clean. However I do not believe that drugs are the biggest threat to football.
Match fixing. It’s not a new thing in football; there have been cases all over the world including Brazil, South Korea, Finland and England. The main place to look for it however is Italy, with massive investigations into various forms ranging from 1980 – 2012. The most famous of these is probably the 2006 example, where 5 teams (AC, Fiorentina, Juventus, Lazio and Reggina) were all found guilty of using favourable referees to fix match results in their favour. All got given fines and points deductions with Juventus being stripped of titles and relegated to Serie B. This threatened to tear Italian football apart, similar to the way that cycling could be torn apart, however all teams recovered. A bigger scandal has been uncovered in 2011-12 with three separate investigations into one scandal involving match fixing by betting. In this case, more than 20 players have been given bans from football and many more have been under investigation including Italian international Leonardo Bonucci. The fall-out from this scandal is still ongoing and it will be a few more years before we know the repercussions of this event; but it does raise an interesting scenario.
What if this happened at a World Cup? What would happen if a certain country chose to cheat its way to the biggest title in world football, either by drugs or match fixing? How would the authorities react? How would the public react? Lance Armstrong was a hero to many people around the world, he beat cancer to achieve something no other cyclist had but now most see him as a fraud. I reckon the reaction would be the same if this happened in football. Football is taking a battering from the press in this country at the moment; most stories are about racism and diving. A scandal of this size could ruin it. Also, think of the innocent people who get dragged into these things – their reputations would be ruined simply by association. Hopefully it would be the end of FIFA, but would FIFA finally see sense and investigate properly? Football authorities are weak at the moment; I don’t believe that they would survive such a scandal.
Back to my original question, could this happen? Yes. Of course it could. Is it likely to, is a different question. Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone could answer that. Footballers are probably cheating at this very moment, we just don’t know about it. It only takes one team willing to win at all costs, just like US Postal, for this situation to occur. I would like your opinions on this, so feel free to share!
Cheating in sport is a big issue for me, and most fellow sport followers. We watch sport for the unpredictability, we watch it so that Mansfield can match Liverpool for most of the match only to lose 2-1 (incidentally, they lost due to an act of cheating), so that Southampton can come from 2-0 down to earn a draw at Chelsea. If that edge was taken out of it, if the result was decided before the players took the pitch I know I would stop watching. If I wanted to watch a sport that has been fixed then I would watch wrestling.