Saturday 16 December 2017

Sporting scandals in various forms under microscope

Book review - Alan Aherne

Sports Scandals - True Stories Of Cheating, Corruption And Greed
Sports Scandals - True Stories Of Cheating, Corruption And Greed

The theme of this book review is a continuation of the previous week's in many ways: the exact opposite of an engrossing page-turner, something a little less involved but educational and interesting all the same.

While it comes from a different author and publisher, the general premise of 'Sports Scandals - True Stories Of Cheating, Corruption And Greed' is similar to 'Football's Strangest Matches' which was covered here one week ago.

Once again, this is the type of book that encourages the reader to dip in and out, and the stories are recounted in rapid fire order, with sometimes just a few paragraphs on a particular topic.

The book's title is self-explanatory, with writer Norman Ferguson carrying out an extensive trawl through the archives to compile a comprehensive record of various controversies which have marred sport at professional and amateur levels.

It's divided neatly into a variety of chapters, each and every one dealing succintly with all sorts of shocking or unbecoming behaviour.

Each section starts off with a main story, referred to as a 'key scandal', with more column inches devoted to that than the remainder of the tales covered under that particular banner.

We start off with the chapter on sex, and not surprisingly golfer Tiger Woods and his errant ways is given the rather dubious pride of place.

Alcohol comes next, with the aftermath of a drunken night following an England versus Scotland Calcutta Cup rugby game in Edinburgh in 1988 recalled.

Apparently, 'stushie' is a Scottish term for a scandal or outrage, and it was used liberally at the time after the trophy was kicked up and down the streets of the city, prompting one local newspaper to re-christen it the 'Calcutta Plate' given its dented condition.

The match-fixing section leads off with the allegations that rocked the world of tennis not too long ago, while the performance-enhancing drugs chapter gives the 'star' treatment, unsurprisingly, to Lance Armstrong who certainly had me conned when I read his books before his big secret emerged.

In terms of stories from Ireland, of course it shouldn't be a claim to fame for anyone to be included in this book.

Nonetheless, a few appear, notably Michelle Smith De Bruin whose gold-medal winning exploits at the 1996 Olympics were subsequently tainted when she was banned from the sport.

Showjumper Cian O'Connor and his horse, 'Waterford Crystal', is also featured, while the moment when boorish England rugby captain Martin Johnson gave the two fingers to protocol and forced President Mary McAleese to stand on the grass rather than the red carpet before an international in Lansdowne Road is also remembered.

That appears in the chapter on unsporting behaviour, and there's also sections on recreational drugs, ball-tampering, violence, faking it (remember that Heineken Cup rugby game between Leinster and Harlequins in 2009 and the blood that never was?), racism, crimes, cheating, corruption and bad decisions.

There's even a chapter near the end under the 'miscellaneous' heading, outlining some incidents that were difficult to categorise. The lead story in that is the famous Black Power salute given by Tommie Smith and John Carlos of the United States after winning the gold and bronze medals respectively in the men's 200m final at the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968.

It seems a timely reminder now of the ability of sport to sometimes transcend the happenings between the white lines. It wasn't the first political demonstration at a major event and no doubt it won't be the last, but it's certainly one that will never be forgotten.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

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