Seeker Archives

Biggest Cheats in Sports History

World Cup organizers join the pantheon of the greatest cheats in sports history.

Police arrested several FIFA officials Wednesday after arriving unannounced at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel (above) in Zurich city where FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) officials were staying. | Erik Tham / Demotix/Corbis
Police arrested several FIFA officials Wednesday after arriving unannounced at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel (above) in Zurich city where FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) officials were staying. | Erik Tham / Demotix/Corbis

The U.S. government on Wednesday indicted top officials from FIFA, soccer's governing body, on federal corruption charges. Nine top FIFA officials and five corporate executives were arrested in Switzerland, as part of an investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

This latest sports scandal ensures that FIFA officials will join the pantheon of the greatest cheats in sports history. In this slideshow, meet some of the other sports figures to hold that inglorious title.

World Cup 2014: How the Soccer Ball Has Evolved


The NFL released a report following an independent investigation of the New England Patriots' now notorious "Deflategate" incident, in which the eventual Super Bowl champions were accused of deflating balls for the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts earlier this year. While the report fell well short of an outright condemnation of the team, the Patriots "more likely than not" deliberately underinflated the balls to affect the outcome of the game. Quarterback Tom Brady "was at least generally aware" of the deflation, a claim Brady dismisses as false.

Following Spygate, the 2007 controversy in which Patriots staff were discovered filming opposing teams' signals, the Patriots have earned a reputation for cheating their way to victory.

Deflategate: How Players Alter Footballs and Why

A newspaper headline tips the Chicago White Sox to win the 1919 World Series. | Library of Congress

Two years after the Chicago White Sox secured the second World Series title in club history, the team appeared poised to win it all again in 1919 in a series against the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds pulled off an unlikely victory, an outcome that had been preordained by gamblers who engineered the win alongside Sox players themselves.

The fix wasn't exactly a surprise among the gambling community. Oddsmakers suspected that Sox players were paid to throw the game when heavy sums were bet on three-to-one odds that the Reds would pull off an upset. The poor performance and 9-1 final score of the first game of the series only heightened misgivings about the fairness of play.

The conspiracy ensnared eight members of what would be known as the Black Sox scandal. The players were dragged to court, where they were never criminally punished but all banned from baseball, including the legendary "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, who insisted upon his innocence.

The Strange Truth Behind Nine Baseball Traditions

An East German swimmer rests between meets. | Corbis Images

Despite its small population, East Germany produced athletes from the mid-1960s through 1980s that dominated the Olympics, racking up gold medals and breaking world records. Success in sports was an important piece of propaganda for the GDR, demonstrating the superiority of the East German Olympians over their Western counterparts. At the Montreal Olympics in 1976 alone, the East Germans brought home 40 gold medals, with the women's swimming team accounting for 11 of them.

But all the success didn't come from the exceptional nature of the East German people; rather it was the result of a comprehensive, state-mandated doping program that involved steroids, amphetamines and other banned substances. The program came to light following the fall of communism in 1989.

Often these substances were used without the athletes' knowledge or consent. Many naively believed they were receiving vitamin injections. Those given steroids in particular without their knowledge have had to live with permanent psychological and physical damage long after the shine had worn from their medals.

VIDEO: Will Rio Be Ready for the 2016 Olympics?

Rosie Ruiz is supported by two Boston police officers, as she makes her way to the dressing room after the 1980 Boston Marathon. | Bettmann/CORBIS

Rosie Ruiz stunned the running world when she placed first in the women's division of the 84th Boston Marathon in 1980. The 26-year-old Cuban American crossed the finish line with a time of 2:34:28, all the more impressive considering she didn't break much of a sweat. Ruiz even said she only had been training for a year and a half and had run just one marathon previously, the New York Marathon.

Despite the acclaim Ruiz garnered for her "win," questions immediately surrounded Ruiz's record-breaking performance. Ruiz didn't have the physique of an elite runner. How could a novice runner finish the 26.2-mile event so quickly? Why didn't she know what an interval was during an interview with famed runner Kathrine Switzer? And why didn't any of the leading runners or spectators recall seeing her over the course of the event?

All the suspicions eventually led to Ruiz being stripped of her medal after officials determined she had cut the course. She even cheated in her only other marathon appearance, using the subway to speed her journey, telling fellow passengers that she suffered an injury during the event.

Ruiz didn't face any criminal punishment following the discovery of her fraud, and continues to insist she ran the length of the marathon, despite the overwhelming evidence to prove otherwise.

VIDEO: Swimming or Running: Which Keeps You in Better Shape?

Ben Johnson runs well ahead of his opponents in the last lengths of the men's 100-meter final at the 1988 Olympics. | Corbis Images

At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson ran the 100 meters faster than any man in history up to that point. With a time of 9.79 seconds, Johnson would earn the gold medal and briefly the title of the fastest man on the planet.

After claiming victory, Johnson turned in his samples for mandatory doping tests. His blood and urine turned up positive for anabolic steroids, and he was stripped of the gold medal, which then went to American Carl Lewis.

Years later, Johnson insisted that he was unfairly singled out, a fair point considering that six of the eight 100-meter finalists, including Lewis, tested positive for banned substances.

Bolt's Dream of a 9.4-Sec 100m is Possible

Newspapers cover the Maradona doping incident in 1994. | Corbis Images

In his native Argentina, Diego Maradona will always be a legend, the man responsible for leading them to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico against West Germany. To soccer players and experts around the world, Maradona ranks as the greatest player in the history of the game. Despite all his brilliance on the field, however, he was also a cheater... twice.

In the 1986 World Cup quarter final, Argentina beat England 2-1 thanks to a goal by a header from Maradona with an assist from "The Hand of God," the term he used at the press conference to explain the hand ball infraction the referee never saw. The goal Maradona would score to win the game would later be voted "goal of the century" by soccer fans.

Eight years later, Maradona would be booted from the 1994 World Cup after testing positive for a banned substance, ephedrine. Maradona defended himself, stating that he ingested the stimulant inadvertently via a sports drink.

Get to Know Your Banned Substances

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan share the ice during a training session at the 1994 Winter Olympics. | Corbis Images

Tonya Harding had the talent to appear on the ice alongside other world class skaters at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. She had the titles after all and was the first American and second woman to land the triple Axel in competition. Her main rival was fellow American, Nancy Kerrigan.

Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, sought an edge by attempting to handicap Kerrigan. Gillooly enlisted Shane Stant to break Kerrigan's leg, forcing her out of competition. Stant used a baton to strike Kerrigan in the back of the leg during a training event ahead of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. The injury forced Kerrigan out of the competition, but she still made it to the Olympics, where she took silver. Harding placed eighth.

Following an investigation into the attack, Gillooly and three accomplices served prison time for their role in the crime. Harding avoided jail, but had to pay a hefty fine and would be banned for life from competitive skating.

Top 11 Disappointing Sports Heroes

A huge laser beam engulfs participants during the closing ceremony for the Paralympics in Sydney Oct. 29, 2000. | Reuters/CORBIS

Anyone who has watched the Olympics has at some point dreamed about what it might be like to take part in an event or even win a gold. Few would be quite so desperate to achieve the dream of Olympic glory as the Spanish basketball team at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney.

The team took gold medals in the event, but were stripped of the victories when the truth surfaced that only two of the 12 members of the squad had an intellectual disability. The others had no debilitating condition for which they would be eligible to participate in the games, and in fact were not even tested.

An undercover journalist, Carlos Ribagorda, had been part of the team all along, and revealed the ruse when he sent back his medal to Paralympic headquarters in Bonn, Germany. Ribagorda further claims that other athletes -- two swimmers, one track and field and a table tennis player, to be specific -- also competed in the games but were not disabled.

The episode is remembered as one of the most disgraceful incidents in Olympic history.

Some Paralympians Cheat, Too

Marion Jones celebrates after coming in first place during a race. | Corbis Images

Throughout her career in track and field that eventually saw her become an Olympic champion, Marion Jones was dogged by rumors of using performance-enhancing drugs. Jones told fans she wasn't doping. She told reporters she wasn't doping. She even told two grand juries she wasn't doping.

There was just one problem: She was doping. Jones was a patron of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) in San Francisco, which created designer anabolic steroids for a number of athletes. Her involvement turned up during an investigation into BALCO, after which she finally admitted to using PEDs. Jones was not only stripped of the three gold medals she won in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but also jailed for six months for perjury.

When Olympic Athletes Act Out

Barry Bonds takes the field during his time playing with the San Francisco Giants | Corbis Images

Like Jones, Barry Bonds was a central figure in the BALCO scandal and one of the players most commonly identified with tarnishing baseball in what has been dubbed the "Steroid Era."

Never much of a fan favorite due to his legendary ego and abrasive personality, Bonds' popularity came from his swing, and he had more success at bat than any other player in baseball history. He currently holds the record for the most home run in a single season and the most over the course of a career. Those achievements, however, are not the product of talent and training alone, but rather the use of anabolic steroids.

Bonds was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for his role in the BALCO drama, but he never served jail time, unlike Jones. Despite his accomplishments in baseball and his eligibility for the honor, Bonds has yet to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Why Star Athletes Behave Badly

Lance Armstrong rides uphill during the 16th stage of the Tour de France in 2004. | Corbis Images

It may seem like ages ago now, but once upon a time, the world looked up to Lance Armstrong. His inspiring story was that of a world-class athlete who beat cancer to come back with seven consecutive appearances as the Tour de France champion.

Sure there were whispers of doping among some members of the media and by former teammates like Floyd Landis, but they were to be ignored and at times even attacked for contradicting the myth Armstrong built up for himself. Armstrong after all wasn't just any other athlete; he was a symbol of hope and a spokesperson for cancer awareness, raising more than $400 million through his Livestrong foundation.

In 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency concluded an investigation that found Armstrong had been a "serial cheat" and participant in "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen." Armstrong wouldn't contest the charges, and so he was stripped of his seven Tour de France championships. Armstrong later fessed up to some of the allegations. His reputation tanked, and he's been in and out of court dealing with the fallout ever since.

VIDEO: What Doping Is and How Lance Armstrong Did It