As the saying goes, cheats never prosper.
But sadly for those in sport, they very often do – usually at the expense of clean sportsmen and women.
Cheating occurs in many ways, but most commonly through doping or match-fixing. There are other high-profile cheats who have resorted to other more drastic means, though.
Before we start, I’m going to chuck in a few parameters.
The sporting cheats named in this list are all from the last 30 years, and have all been confirmed cheats – let’s face it, nobody likes a lawsuit.
Several famous sporting cheats have been left off the list, such as the trio of Pakistan cricketers who spot-fixed events like no-balls, and the US Postal Service and Festina cycling team doping scandals. The latter two have been ignored because the whole top ten would feature cyclists!
That’s the admin out of the way, get set for my top ten sporting cheats.
- Justin Gatlin – USA – Athletics
Gatlin is a previous 100m world record holder, but in 2006 tested positive for testosterone. His WR time of 9.77s was scrubbed away and he was left to contemplate a career in the NFL. Since receiving his four-year ban for doping, Justin Gatlin has set the record book alight. The American’s bronze medal-winning 9.79s in the 2012 Olympic 100m final helped it become the fastest race in history, and in 2014 he matched his tarnished 9.77s to achieve a new PB. However, some still believe him to be reaping the benefits of past doping, including 2012 Olympic discus champion Robert Harting, who did not wish to be nominated alongside Gatlin in the 2014 IAAF Athlete of the Year awards.
- Flavio Briatore – Italy – Formula One
In a fix that became renowned as ‘crash-gate’, Briatore’s actions led to what was then a lifetime ban from F1. The eccentric Italian had ordered Nelson Piquet Jr. to crash his Renault in the 2008 Singapore GP in order to provoke a safety car and enable his team-mate Fernando Alonso to win the race. The plot worked perfectly, until Piquet Jr. came clean after his dismissal from Renault in 2009. Briatore has never graced F1 since.
- Harlequins ‘blood-gate’ scandal – England – Rugby Union
It was a scheme that shocked the world of rugby union. During a tight Heineken Cup match with Leinster in 2009, winger Tom Williams stopped with a blood injury which forced his substitution. The blood was not blood, though. Williams bit down on a fake blood capsule in a tactical move to bring the substituted Nick Evans back to the field of play. The plan, orchestrated by the shamed Dean Richards, was discovered after TV replays pictured Williams giving a far from subtle wink to the team bench. After an investigation, Harlequins were found to have used the blood capsules tactically on four previous occasions.
- Hansie Cronje – South Africa – Cricket
In 2000, South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje was recorded by Indian police while talking to a betting syndicate. His actions earned Cronje a life ban for match-fixing but, in 2012, eight months after his appeal was thrown out, he died in a plane crash. Strong rumours surfaced about his death, some suggesting he was murdered by order of an Indian betting syndicate.
- Marion Jones – USA – Athletics
Winner of three sprint gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Jones is one of the most successful cheats in sporting history. Plagued by accusations of doping in her youth career, Jones continued to deny taking performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) throughout her career. However, she and her shot-putter husband CJ Hunter were implicated in the BALCO doping case, which produced an undetectable steroid called THG. It was a scandal that also involved British sprinter Dwain Chambers, but Jones would face jail time after admitting lying to federal agents investigating BALCO. In 2007, she later confessed to taking steroids prior to the Sydney Games.
- Tonya Harding – USA – Figure Skating
For Tonya Harding, the 1994 Winter Olympics at Lillehammer was proof that cheats don’t prosper. After her ex-husband hired a man named Shane Stant to break the leg of her fierce rival Nancy Kerrigan, she was exposed as a cheat – the like of which figure skating had never seen before. Stant used a baton to break Kerrigan’s leg, but failed and only caused bruising. Kerrigan made a complete recovery and claimed the silver medal at Lillehammer, while the disgraced Harding languished in eighth.
- Ben Johnson – Canada – Athletics
In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a clearly wired Ben Johnson lined up and blitzed the field to record a new WR of 9.79s. However, the South Korean doping authorities found a steroid called stanozolol in his urine sample and he was disqualified three days later. Johnson later admitted to using steroids not only at Seoul, but in the 1987 World Athletics Championships in Rome as well. The incident continues to be named as the biggest scandal in athletics history.
- Diego Maradona – Argentina – Football
It is a shame that a man of such immense talent finds himself in this blog, but Diego Maradona’s actions, on more than one occasion, warrant third place on the list. His notorious ‘Hand of God’ goal at the 1986 World Cup against England was followed by a sublime individual goal in the same match – providing a microcosm for the good and bad of Maradona’s career. He had also battled drug problems, notably when testing positive for cocaine in 1991 and the banned steroid ephedrine at the 1994 World Cup.
- Michele Ferrari – Italy – Cycling
Ferrari’s expertise, sporting connections and medical background landed him a job as team doctor for Italian cycling team Gewiss in 1994. The team was instantly successful upon his arrival and subsequent eyebrows were raised. The Italian had perfected the use of EPO – a blood-boosting drug – in endurance athletes and his clientele was growing rapidly as word spread. It took just one year for Ferrari to leave Gewiss and begin his own practice. But Ferrari had only just got started. Soon, an all-conquering cyclist by the name of Lance Armstrong came calling and the two struck up a close relationship over many years – eventually leading to a trend of doping in the Tour de France across the majority of the peloton. Ferrari was given a lifetime ban from sport by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in 2012, but still protests his innocence.
- Lance Armstrong – USA – Cycling
It takes some case to beat that of Michele Ferrari, but Lance Armstrong’s is undoubtedly the most grievous of them all. Having been a promising young cyclist, Armstrong won the world road race in 1993 and set about establishing himself as cycling’s next superstar. It was only after his diagnosis with testicular cancer that he revealed his dark secrets to doctors after they raised the possibility that PEDs could have helped cause his cancer. His Motorola team-mate Frankie Andreu and his wife Betsy were in the room during his shock admission and later played a key role in testifying against the Texan.
Armstrong used a variety of techniques to conceal his doping including a web of lies, numerous intimidatory tactics and the filing of many lawsuits against anyone who dared to muddy his name. In 2005, after winning his seventh Tour de France, he retired but later came back in 2009 for three seasons before quitting for good.
With increasing pressure from a cycling fraternity eager to cleanse its image, Armstrong later admitted to using PEDs including EPO in each of his seven Tour de France victories. USADA gave him a lifetime sporting ban and he was stripped of his Tour de France wins, including a bronze medal in the Sydney Olympics time trial. Armstrong is without doubt the biggest cheat ever to compete in a sporting event and fully deserves the ignominious position of first place on this list – ironically it was his cheating that won him this award, too.
- You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89