In Depth

The biggest sports scandals of the 21st century

Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods and football’s governing body have all shocked the world

Sports stars are known for their remarkable talents but their ability to create controversy and scandal is not far behind.

West Ham defender Kurt Zouma joined the hall of shame last month when a video emerged of him kicking a cat. The RSPCA has now announced it is prosecuting the 27-year-old former Chelsea player and his brother after the animal welfare charity took his two cats into care.

This century has already seen some historic sports scandals – including a serial doping cyclist, bribery and an allegation of sexual assault. With media scrutiny of sporting stars growing as fast as the riches on offer to the athletes, more are bound to surface.

Here is a look at arguably the six biggest sports scandals so far this century.

Fifa corruption

A corruption scandal at football’s world governing body ended in December 2015 when two of the game’s biggest names – Fifa President Sepp Blatter and Uefa President Michel Platini – were banned for eight years from all football-related activities by Fifa’s ethics committee.

The BBC described the events that began in May that year as sport’s “biggest ever” corruption scandal. Seven Fifa officials were arrested in a dawn raid on a Zurich hotel and in all 14 convictions followed for financial impropriety as a result of an investigation by US federal agents.

Allegations ranged from bribes to secure South Africa its first World Cup in 2010 and to bring 2016’s Copa America Centenario to the US and even accepting “hefty sums” to award the 2022 World Cup bid to Qatar, said Sports Keeda.

Lance Armstrong

In January 2013, American cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs during all seven of his Tour de France wins.

Following years of angry denials, Armstrong told US chat-show host Oprah Winfrey: “I view this situation as one big lie I repeated a lot of times. I made those decisions, they were my mistake and I’m here to say sorry.”

The Texan received a lifetime ban from all sports that follow the World Anti-Doping Code, including cycling. In 2018, he settled a civil lawsuit with the US Department of Justice and agreed to pay $5m to the US government.

Russia banned from Olympics

In 2019, Russia was handed a four-year ban from all major sporting events by the World Anti-Doping Agency after the body concluded that it had “orchestrated and run a sprawling and state-sponsored doping scheme” at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, said The New York Times.

The following year, the ban was cut to two years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. However, the measure still prevented Russia from competing at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and football’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Kobe Bryant

In 2003, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant was arrested after being accused of rape by a hotel employee in Colorado. The woman refused to testify in court while Bryant insisted that he never assaulted her and the sex was purely consensual, noted the Bleacher Report.

However, he later apologised for the incident, saying he recognised that “she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did”. A subsequent civil suit was settled out of court, reported the BBC.

In 2020, Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in California.

Oscar Pistorius

On 14 February 2013, the South African Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in his Pretoria home. He later claimed he had mistaken her for an intruder hiding in the bathroom.

At his trial in 2014, Pistorius was initially found not guilty of murder, but was convicted of culpable homicide. He received a five-year prison sentence but after an appeal he was convicted of murder. His sentence was extended to 15 years.

Tiger Woods

In November 2009, the world’s No. 1 golfer Tiger Woods crashed his SUV in the early hours of the morning near his Florida home. According to the BBC, Woods was “groggy from a cocktail of painkillers and sleeping pills. He then lost consciousness and was ferried to hospital in an ambulance”.

The broadcaster added that Woods’s wife Elin had just discovered that her husband had been cheating on her. The episode led to increased scrutiny of his personal life, and Woods eventually admitted to having had around 120 affairs.

He featured on the front page of the New York Post for 20 consecutive days, beating a record set by the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, noted the BBC.

Woods and his wife divorced, he lost several leading sponsors and he fell to No. 58 in the world rankings in 2011.

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