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Giles: From Sandpaper to Hitching Rides – Sport’s Most Inventive Cheats

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First base umpire Joe Brinkman, left, and home plate umpire Dave Phillips inspect a bat belonging to the Cleveland Indians’ Albert Belle, right, that was corked during a 1994 incident. Photos: AP photos

By Thomas Giles |

The sporting world has long been overshadowed by cheating as players try their hardest to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents, so what are sport’s most inventive incidents of cheating?

Yesterday we saw the Australian cricket team caught up in a ball-tampering scandal, which saw Cameron Bancroft, a junior member of the team, rub a homemade form of sandpaper, constructed from sticky tape and grit from the playing surface, onto the ball in an attempt to change the behavior of the ball in his side’s test match against South Africa.

In a press conference afterwards, Australian captain Steve Smith admitted that the plan was pre-meditated by the senior members of the squad, meaning he and vice-captain David Warner have been forced to stand down.

When we hear about cheating in sport, doping is often the first word that springs to mind. But this recent case with the Australian team has got me thinking, what are sport’s most inventive cheats?

Let’s stick to cricket and Australia for the first one.

During a One Day International series in 2010 in Perth, Australia, Pakistan were accused of ball tampering after stand-in captain Shahid Afridi was caught biting into the match ball, like one would an apple, before tossing it back to the bowler during the Australian innings.

It was clearly a last-ditch effort from Afridi after a horrendous series from Pakistan, in which they were already 4-0 down by the time they played the match in Perth, and, as is usually the case when panic sets in, the “solution” failed to work as the ball was replaced with five overs to go with Australia needing just 35 runs to win. Unsurprisingly, they reached the target of 213 to clinch a 5-0 whitewash win.

Afridi subsequently received a lenient punishment of a ban from two Twenty20 Internationals.

The second entry on this list stays with the theme of bat and ball but crosses continents to America.

Much like ball tampering in cricket, baseball has a phenomenon with doctoring bats. This involves players inserting cork through a drilled hole in a bat, giving it a more “springy” quality, allowing players to hit the ball further.

Given the subtle nature of the act, it is almost impossible to catch players who have corked their bat – smashing a suspected bat open is usually the only way to find out.

During a match between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox in 1994, White Sox manager Gene Lamont suspected Albert Belle of the Indians was using a corked bat and asked the match officials to inspect it.

The officials duly responded to Lamont’s concerns and locked the suspected bat in a room to be inspected later on. This caused the Indians to panic, fearing that Belle, a star player on the roster, could be suspended. They, therefore, hatched an astonishing plan to retrieve the bat from the officials’ office and replace it with an undoctored one.

Relief pitcher Jason Grimsley was the man tasked with the duty and, in an almost The Great Escape-style undercover job, crawled through the air vents of the Comiskey Park stadium to the officials’ office, replacing the doctored bat with a clean one, belonging to team-mate Paul Sorrento.

Unfortunately for the Indians, it was more Baldrick from Blackadder than The Great Escape as the officials quickly noticed the name of Sorrento was on the bat instead of Belle. The debris on the floor from a broken ceiling tile was another huge giveaway.

Belle was eventually suspended for seven games for his actions.

Number three stays in the United States but switches sports to American Football.

In most other sports, the match ball is provided by a neutral party. This is not the case with American Football, where the home team supplies the match balls, seemingly a huge loophole when trying to combat ball tampering scandals…

The New England Patriots, undoubtedly the most successful NFL team of the 21st century with more titles than any other team, were caught using this rather wide loophole in the 2014-2015 season in an incident known as “Deflategate”. The Patriots were using deflated balls for their own offensive plays in a high-stakes playoff match against the Indianapolis Colts.

A deflated ball gives the offensive team a huge advantage as it is much easier for the players to grip. Rules stipulate that a ball must be inflated to a gauge pressure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (psi), but Patriot balls were found to be at levels much lower than the 12.5 minimum psi.

The deflated balls clearly had a large impact in this match as the Patriots ran out 45-7 winners. In fact, the Patriots, winners of the Superbowl title that year, had been suspected of using underinflated balls throughout the 2014 regular season.

This led to an investigation, after which, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, widely seen as the sport’s greatest-ever player, was suspended for four matches. The Patriots organisation were given a hefty fine and lost two draft picks.

Whilst the Patriots, led by Bill Belichick, are still seen as one of the most successful sporting organisations of modern times, “Deflategate” has undoubtedly put a huge stain on their reputation.

Much like cricket, where we started our list, rugby union is seen as one of the world’s cleanest sports where fair play is seen as the most important part of the game. All players are said to respect the values of the sport ahead of their own team’s success.

This image, however, was tarnished in April 2009 when a Heineken Cup match between Harlequins and Leinster was marred by a scandal involving fake blood.

The scandal, subsequently dubbed “Bloodgate” involved the use of the blood bin in rugby union, allowing previously deemed injured players to be reintroduced to the action if another player is forced to leave the field to have a blood wound tended to.

In this instance, Harlequins’ New Zealand flyhalf stroke fullback Nick Evans had previously left the field injured but the coaching staff were keen to bring him back onto the field of play in a tactical move.

Knowing that they could only do so through the blood bin, the Harlequins coaching and medical staff called on winger Tom Williams to puncture a fake blood capsule in his mouth, meaning he could be replaced by Evans.

Perhaps what makes the story more horrifying is that Williams called on club doctor Wendy Chapman to cut his lip to create a real injury to disguise the cheat.

Following an investigation by the European Rugby Cup, the organiser of the Heineken Cup, and the Rugby Football Union, it was discovered Harlequins had used fake blood injuries to enable tactical substitutions on four previous occasions. Williams was eventually given a 12-month ban, which was reduced to four on appeal, while Harlequins’ director of rugby Dean Richards was issued with a three-year-ban.

Leinster eventually went on to win the Heineken Cup that year, beating Leicester Tigers in the final. Amazingly, however, Harlequins were not banned from any future editions of the competition.

Onto less sinister matters to finish off.

One can sympathise with an individual forced to travel 26.2 miles on foot when other more convenient and less tiring forms of travel are available. When you are competing in a marathon race, though, those options are chucked out the window.

Not so for American Frederick Lorz, arguably the most famous marathon cheat after his “performance” at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.

After completing the first nine miles on foot, Lorz must have realised he had overexerted himself and therefore stopped due to exhaustion. His manager subsequently gave him a lift in his car for the next 11 miles before it broke down, meaning Lorz had to complete the last 6.2 miles on foot. Lorz eventually entered the stadium and was the first to break the finishing tape, meaning he had officially won the race.

Lorz eventually owned up to his cheating after spectators claimed he had not run the entire race, meaning team-mate Thomas Hicks was declared the winner. Interestingly, Hicks was found to be using the convulsant strychnine during the race, a substance since been banned.

Despite the fact that all the incumbents on this list ended up being caught, it seems that athletes will stop at nothing to push the limits and will always find inventive ways of playing the system.

Whilst we can all agree that cheating is a stain on sport which must be eradicated, in a way, I am looking forward to seeing what athletes try next…

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz

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