Like it or not, cheating is part and parcel in the world of sports. However, several individuals throughout history have taken unsportsmanlike conduct to new heights be perpetrating the biggest scams in sports.
After all, winning can be addictive and oftentimes, financially lucrative as well. And therein creates the problem, because sometimes you have individuals who would go all out to win, regardless of the rules.
Over the years, professional sports have seen its fair share of con-artists, fraudsters, and scammers. This ranges from the cheats to hoaxes and hustles as well as dirty deals. But the world of sports also has help created some rather shady characters who display a knack for the deceit that rival the skills of even the most accomplished athlete.
Throughout history, there have many perpetrators who have tried to cheat their way into the record books. They have succeeded in some ways too, but not for the glory of winning but for their fraudulent capabilities. Here are several who were complicit in causing some of the biggest scams in sports.
Gotta Catch That Train
On 21 April 1980, Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon becoming the 84th winner of the race It was a perfect story too, an unknown runner emerging out of nowhere to win a prestigious marathon. Equally impressive was her time of 2:31: 56 to complete the 42-km course. At the time, it was the third-fastest marathon time at the time for the woman’s category.
Unfortunately, it was all a ruse because race officials discovered she only joined the race roughly 1.6km from the actual finish line. Stripped of her title eight days later, officials discovered that the Boston Marathon was not the first time Ruiz pulled a fast one on race officials.
The administrative assistant from New York City, qualified for the 84th Boston Marathon after successfully completing the 1979 New York City Marathon. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that Ruiz hopped on the subway during portions of the race to complete the course.
Hook, Line & Stinker
Competitive bass fishing is one of the most lucrative forms of sport fishing in North America. Every year, it attracts anglers across the country, including Missouri-native, Paul Tormanen who emerged as one of the sports rising stars for his impressive catches, roughly 16 years ago.
Tormanen won a series of bass competitions raking in tens of thousands of dollars and even sailing away with a boat. However, his gambit was eventually discovered by a fellow competitor during a 2005 contest in Louisiana.
Alerting wildlife officials, they discovered Tormanen would tether his catch to a stump somewhere in the vicinity of the competition. As soon as the contest would start, he would head out and retrieve his tournament-winning catch.
Marking his tethered fish at the tournament, officials caught him red handed when he turned in his catch to be weighed. After being caught out, Tormanen was charged with contest fraud and was banned for life from all B.A.S.S. competitions.
Heinrich “Heinz” Ratjen committed one of the biggest scams in sports and fooled the world of athletics for several years by disguising himself as a woman to compete in several events. Participating under the name Dora Ratjen, the athlete competed at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where he finished fourth.
Two years later, “Dora” took home the gold medal and broke the world record at the European Championships. However, he was outed in September 1938 following the European Championships when a ticket inspector reported that a woman passenger on a train was a man. Ratjen was charged and a criminal investigation ensued.
A lot of theories surfaced soon after, one stating that Ratjen’s gender was mixed from birth. The other involved the Nazis who reportedly forced him to represent Germany in a bid to help win more medals. Regardless of what was true, the gold medal was returned, and the name Dora Ratjen was expunged from the records.
Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal rocked the cycling world ten years ago but in 2016, there was another incident that was equally controversial. That year in the women’s under-23 Cyclo-cross World Championship race, Belgian cyclist Femke van den Driessche was discovered using a powered motor in her bike.
Upon inspecting her competition bike, the event organisers discovered a motor within the saddle tube of her bike. The tiny motor was activated by a hidden switch under the handlebar. It was the first case that was classified as mechanical doping although rumours of such a device being used in competitive cycling existed several years prior.
Still, it was 19-year-old Driessche, a former Belgian junior Cyclo-cross champion, who was the first cyclist charged for ‘mechanical doping or ‘technological fraud’. Suspended for six years and fined with all her previous results annulled, and her medals and prize money returned, she retired from the sport a short while later.
When Puerto Rico athlete Madeline de Jesus suffered an injury at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, it effectively put her out of the women’s 4×400-meter relay. But rather than despair, she decided to rope in her identical twin sister, Margaret for help.
Margaret, who was not only a splitting image of her sister but also a fellow athlete, would take Madeline’s place to help the team qualify for the final. And they did.
However, the very next day an eagle-eyed Puerto Rican journalist, noticed the difference between the two sisters and promptly reported it. As a result, the head of the Puerto Rican Olympic team immediately pulled the team from the finals.
Following an investigation by the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee, Madeline and Margaret were banned from all future competitions. The team’s relay coach, who was revealed to be a part of the deception, was also given a lifetime ban. The three members of the 4X400 track squad also received a one-year suspension from competition.
In November 1996, Southampton player, Ali Dia came on the pitch to replace teammate Matt Le Tissier in a game against Leeds. The Senegalese player spent a total of 50-plus minutes in the game. The following week, he was gone and never heard off again.
The curious case of Dia is one of the weirdest the Premiere League has witness thus far. According to reports and interviews, the player scored a trial with the Premier League club after a call from his ‘cousin’ George Weah to then manager, Graeme Souness.
The Saints boss, apparently thinking he was talking to the 1995 Ballon d’Or and World Player of the Year awards, decided to give Dia a shot. The footballing resume he claimed was no doubt impressive. It included placements in the national team and stints in teams such as Paris Saint-Germain. No one knew it was fabricated.
So, after coming on as a sub in that Leeds game, Dia’s game was instantly done for. Exposed for the world to see, it was apparent that the player was well out of his depth. Le Tissier, in his autobiography, said that Dia “ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice.” Some pundits even claim that Dia was possibly the worst player ever to play in the league.
There have been epic frauds in the world of sports perpetrated by the some of the worst individuals on earth. But the 2000 Spanish Paralympic basketball team, took matters to a new level.
At the Sydney Olympics, Spain fielded a team of intellectually handicapped basketball made up players who did not have disabilities. In fact, only two of out of 12 had disabilities. The team went on to win the Gold medal at the games, but the scandal was exposed by one of their own, who was apparently an undercover reporter.
It unravelled big time, becoming the biggest scandal in Paralympic history. In his report, the player claimed that during one of the team’s opening games, their coach even instructed them to not play well after taking a commanding lead of 30 points during halftime.
After the expose, the team was forced to return their medals, but damage had already been done. With no way to classify people with intellectual disabilities, the Paralympic Committee decided to temporarily remove all events from the Games for intellectually disable athletes.
Due to the actions of the 2000 Spanish Paralympic basketball team, thousands were now denied the chance to compete at the Special Olympics. It would take more than a decade at the London 20212 games, before athletes with intellectual disabilities could compete again.
Soccer Scam Artist
If there was an award to be given to the world’s greatest sports fraudster, the title would be hand-delivered to Carlos Henrique Kaiser. That is because the Brazilian professional footballer boasts a stunning 20-year plus career in the game, without having kicked a ball.
Kaiser’s ability to cause one of the biggest scams in sports is no doubt impressive. His long con would involve befriending several Brazilian players and use that connection to convince clubs to take him on for short trial periods.
Upon joining he would pick up an ‘injury’, putting him on the bench for several weeks. Using this and feigning interest from other clubs, Kaiser hopped from club to club. His globetrotting career as a pro lasted two decades in stints in Brazil, Mexico, U.S, and France.
There were a couple of times Kaiser was nearly found out, but the footballer would always find a way to extend the con.
During a fan presentation in France, one of the coaches brought out balls for Kaiser to showcase his skills. Thinking quickly, he shot all balls into the stands as ‘gifts’ for the crowd. Once in Brazil, he was nearly called up for a game. But rather than suit up, he started arguing with the fans in attendance, resulting in a red card, ejecting him from the pitch.
In total, Kaiser spent over two decades in professional football, eventually calling it quits in 2004 at the age of 41. He retired with zero goals and zero assists. It was only seven years later that people began piecing together Kaiser’s decades long deception. There is even a film made about him titled, ‘The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football.”