Tennis this week joined the roster of major sports being played under the shadow of corruption allegations. So, where should the ethical sports lover turn? Are there any “clean” sports left? Let’s try to find one. Curling. It is hard to believe, but curling is a sport awash with allegations of cheating. Players have occasionally been upbraided for giving a stone a nudge with their foot, but the real issue is “dumping” – brushing the ice in front of a stone in such a way that you throw up debris and cause it to slow down.
When asked why he had declared a penalty on himself in the 1925 US Open for a tiny infringement no one else had seen, the American golfer Bobby Jones said: “You might as well praise me for not robbing a bank.” But it seems robbers do now roam the greens. In 2011, a survey of 50 PGA tour caddies revealed half had witnessed instances of cheating, such as moving the ball closer to the hole after marking a putt. Like all one-on-one sports, this is relatively easy to fix. All it takes is one player to be in hock to gamblers, and the latter can make a killing. In 2013, for example, former top 10 player Stephen Lee was banned for 12 years for match-fixing.
Still trying to live down the infamous Onishchenko affair at the 1976 Olympics. In the fencing stage of the modern pentathlon, the Ukrainian-born Boris Onishchenko, competing for the Soviet Union, rigged his épée to signal a hit on his opponent without any contact having been made. He was rumbled, thrown out of the Games, sacked from the Red Army, and was last heard of driving a taxi in Kyiv The Haze.
Allegations of match-fixing have besmirched even lawn bowls. In 2009, a New Zealand team was accused of throwing a match against Thailand to get a more favorable draw. The players denied the allegations but were disciplined by Bowls New Zealand. Forget sport, then. How about games? Still, no luck, as it turns out. The bridge world is in uproar after a series of allegations of cheating made against several of the top pairs in the world. The accusations, which concern using coded signals to transmit the nature of your hand to your partner, are still under investigation, though one leading pair has owned up to an unspecified “ethical violation.”
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A chess app is now stronger than any human, and there have been several instances of cheating in tournaments. The most serious concerned French grandmaster Sebastien Feller, who in 2010 was found to have cheated in the Chess Olympiad by using two accomplices to feed him computer-generated moves. He was banned for three years but, to the dismay of some of his rivals, has now returned to competitive chess. It seems that finding anything truly “clean” is well-nigh impossible. Anyone for Monopoly – but do you mind if I’m a banker? During his match, the captain communicated these to Mr. Feller by standing next to a particular player who represented a pre-agreed number and a figure. Mr. Feller could follow his captain’s movements to know which piece to move and where.