Suspicious minds

The Magnificent Seven: sporting conspiracy theories

The Battle of the Sexes, Tiger Woods and the 1995 Rugby World Cup final all feature in this week’s piece.

THERE HAVE BEEN a number of conspiracy theories in sport’s long history – the majority of which amount to pure balderdash.

In the odd instances when they are either proven or strongly suspected of being true, they generally lose their conspiracy theory status (eg Michelle Smith winning the three gold medals).

So in other words, practically every theory you are about to read is complete rubbish. Albeit, very entertaining rubbish…

Chelsea’s penalty claims against Barcelona were denied because of a UEFA plot

Chelsea were denied four penalties in their crucial 2009 Champions League encounter with Barcelona. At least one of the incidents in question appeared to be a clear-cut penalty. Didier Drogba led the protest, with some Chelsea players believing they were the subject of a UEFA conspiracy.

True or false? Definitely false. Only one of the decisions could legitimately be described as a clear-cut penalty (the first handball), and the referee was unsighted for that incident. Moreover, the fact that a Barcelona player was somewhat harshly sent off accentuates the theory’s lack of credibility.

The ‘Miracle on Ice’ wasn’t that miraculous

The USSR in 1980 were regarded as easily the best ice hockey team in the world. The Americans, going into the encounter, were clear underdogs. They had been trounced 8-2 in an exhibition game by their Soviet opponents, just prior to the Olympics. However, the Americans had threatened to boycott the competition owing to the Cold War, and conspiracy theorists suggest that the USSR let them win in order to prevent them pulling out of the competition.

True or false? False. It is inconceivable that the USSR would sacrifice a gold medal purely to ensure the US competed in the tournament and it’s doubtful that winning one particular medal would have a significant influence on their decision anyway.

The Battle of the Sexes was fixed

In a game that struck a blow for equality in sport, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a Battle of the Sexes encounter. Suspicions were raised however, given that Riggs made an unusual number of errors and patently underperformed, despite comprehensively beating Margaret Court in the first-ever Battle of the Sexes match.

True or false? It’s anti-feminist propaganda most likely. The fact that Riggs was both humiliated and depressed for months thereafter, makes it difficult to argue otherwise.

Tiger Woods sat out part of the 2008 season to avoid being tested for steroids

The fact that Tiger’s injury coincided with the PGA Tour’s introduction of random drug testing led certain people to raise suspicions. Moreover, he had noticeably bulked up since storming onto the scene in 1996, which led to whispers of the possibility that he was using steroids.

True or false? Even though Woods can longer uphold the squeaky-clean image he had at the time, there is simply no substantial evidence to suggest there are any truth to these rumours.

Michael Jordan retired in 1993 to avoid suspension

Jordan cited his father’s murder and losing his love for basketball as the reasons for his first retirement. Nevertheless, some people claim that what only turned out to be a temporary break from the sport was actually a calculated move that Jordan made in order to avoid being suspended on a gambling violation.

True or false? Again, there is a conspicuous lack of evidence pointing to any truth in this theory. And Jordan has a proclivity for retiring from the sport, having done so on three separate occasions, so it seems unreasonable to believe that he wasn’t being genuine in this instance.

The Sweden-Denmark Euro 2004 game was fixed

Denmark and Sweden faced each other in the final Euro 2004 group game. Italy were competing alongside these two nations for qualification from the group. There was only one result – 2-2 – that would ensure both these nations would qualify, while the Italians would not be sent packing. Guss what the final score was?

True or false? You could argue that it’s partially true. It’s hard to believe that the two sides could get away with meeting up beforehand and meticulously orchestrating how the match would pan out. However, once Mattias Jonson scored a late 88th minute equaliser for Sweden, neither side looked overly determined to go in search of a winner.    

New Zealand’s food was deliberately poisoned before the 1995 Rugby World Cup final

New Zealand faced a historic World Cup final against South Africa, who were hosting the tournament. However, just prior to the game, their entire team were struck down with food poisoning. Certain people, most notably their coach Laurie Mains, claimed that their food was deliberately poisoned.

True or false? It’s possible, but very difficult to prove. However, the All Blacks admitted they had disobeyed orders to avoid junk foot and taken a trip to a nearby Pizza Hut in the run-up to the game, so it could well have just been a coincidence.

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In pictures: Irish side run out for final training session before Rules Series throw-in>