2016: A Difficult Year for Sports
A year when a Twitter campaign wins you the American presidency, a Brexit referendum becomes the conduit for political (and perhaps economic) suicide, and an anti-corruption campaign disrupts the lives of 1.3 billion people virtually overnight, cannot clearly be without its share of sporting controversies.
While Faf du Plessis’ French kissing of the red ball with a minty residue earned him a guilty verdict for ball tampering from the ICC, and Glenn Maxwell’s rather public censuring of his Victoria state captain Wade for pushing him down the batting order were headline capturing pre-Christmas controversies, they were hardly the most jaw dropping such events this year.
As if the FIFA Corruption Scandal that culminated in the removal of the top layer at football’s governing body in 2015 was not enough to get by on, its new president took only a few months to be back among the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Early in 2016, questions were raised about the role FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, played in deals that were concluded when he was director of legal services at UEFA, European football’s governing body.
The emergence of the contracts from 2003 and 2006, which were co-signed by Gianni Infantino, linked UEFA for the first time to one of the companies involved in the huge scandal that brought down former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
Throughout the year, while Nadal and Federer fought with injuries that kept them out of Grand Slams intermittently, Del Potro made a fairytale return to the top level, and Djokovic found his invincibility questioned by a born again Andy Murray, Tennis was kept entertained by Australia’s enfant terrible Nick Kyrgios.
Between some entertaining and indeed stunning performances, Kyrgios alternated between helpfully confiding mid-match in Wawrinka about how Kyrgios’ friend had been sleeping with Stan’s girlfriend, to going on Twitter to confide in his worldwide audience how he utterly despises the sport that pays his bills, and then to admitting to a New York Times reporter that he would really rather play Pokémon Go than practice for the US Open.
As an icing on the cake, Kyrgios then decided he didn’t want to complete a match at the Shanghai Open as he was too tired and uninterested and gave up midway. He was promptly banned, advised psychiatric help by the ATP as a way of shortening his ban, and accepted this.
As of this week, he was playing in the IPTL and looking happier than he has in many months. Perhaps 2017 will be the year he steers clear of controversies.
People who have followed his career won’t however be holding their breath.
The Rio Olympics were the most anticipated event of the year in world sport. The run up to Rio, was however anything but smooth.
A report blew up in the faces of the IOC days before the Olympics started showing that Russia was involved in systematic doping of its athletes between 2011 and 2015 and actually manipulated samples in the testing lab during the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Hundreds of Russian athletes were banned from participating at Rio and the entire delegation was banned at the Paralympic Games that followed the Olympics.
Through the summer, old samples tested under new methods took away medals from athletes from Olympics gone by, particularly Beijing and London.
Then this week, a new report by the same author brought to light the fact that about 1000 sportspersons were involved in this state sponsored systematic doping by Russia between 2011 and 2015.
A black year indeed for sports from a doping perspective.
And then the Olympics themselves and the country of Brazil were sent into a tizzy by US swimmer Ryan Lochte.
The Ryan Lochte robbery story was like the web of a spider. There were so many different strands leading to different bits of conflicting information that it was nearly impossible to wrap one’s mind around it all.
He first claimed he and other swim team members were held up at gunpoint and he saved everyone with his heroics. Then he changed his story to say that they had been robbed at gunpoint by corrupt Brazilian policemen.
When the phantom witnesses did not materialise and CCTV proved Lochte had made up the story, his fellow swimmers were taken into custody in Brazil until they admitted the whole story was fabricated in an alcoholic haze.
Lochte also went on to blame alcohol for sticking with his earlier story, saying he was still “intoxicated” when he gave his initial account to NBC. He also alleged that the language barrier and the brandishing of a firearm by one of the security guards made for a more hectic situation.
As the Autumn of 2016 arrived, controversy hit the top echelons of English football.
Sam Allardyce’s reign as coach of England’s soccer team ended after just 67 days following an undercover sting by a British newspaper.
The 61-year-old was caught on camera seemingly admitting that he knew of ways to skirt FIFA rules on player ownership.
He was promptly sacked the next day.
Allardyce’s lifelong ambition of managing the English team was realised, but he would go down as the manager with the shortest reign and without any international matches against his name while holding the position.
And finally as Christmas approached and the Australian cricket season kicked off, it was Michael Clarke’s autobiography that provided some much needed spice to heat up the summer.
In a recounting of the Jan 2009 SCG dressing room controversy that Simon Katich has always held was responsible for the end of his career (Clarke became captain soon after and Katich was never picked again) Clarke admitted that he should not have used the words he did which caused Katich to react. But he also said they had put their differences behind and patched up.
In response Katich said, “I haven’t changed my point of view on the matter. I said what I said a few years ago. I guess at the moment he’s obviously trying to sell a book so it’s amazing how more and more of the story comes out.”
And on coach Mickey Arthur’s report that on the 2014 India tour Clarke called Shane Watson a cancer in the team, this is what Clarke helpfully clarified: “I said that there are a number of players, a group in this team at the moment, that are like a tumour and if we don’t fix it, it’s going to turn into a cancer. Shane was one of those players, yes.”
An interesting year indeed!
While every year has its share of controversies, with the backdrop of turmoil in and outside sporting arenas, it’s going to be difficult to trump 2016!