Controversy and sport have gone hand-in-hand for time immemorial. So, in that sense, 2019 was no different. Be it Russia getting banned from participating at the Olympics and the 2022 FIFA World Cup, to US women’s soccer captain Megan Rapinoe having a go at President Donald Trump, there were several occasions when things kept coming to a boil. Racist chants reared their heads from time to time, not sparing the best of international athletes, mostly footballers.
TOI takes a look at some of the key controversies that led to extended discussions amongst fans throughout the year…
BILES OPENS UP ON DISGRACED TEAM DOCTOR LARRY NASSAR
The reigning queen of world gymnastics Simone Biles made stunning revelations last year about her being among the victims of abuse perpetrated by the jailed US team doctor Larry Nassar. This year, she opened up about how she coped with the sexual abuse inflicted on her and scores of other gymnasts including several US Olympians by the disgraced doctor. During a discussion for the YouTube series If I could Tell You Just One Thing, Biles said she spoke to a friend about the abuse. “I called her and asked her the definition of ‘sexually abused’, because some of my friends had had it worse than me,” Biles said. But the gymnast chose not to go public with the revelation because she did not want people to see her differently. Nassar was jailed for 60 years on child porn charges last year.
NO END TO RAMPANT RACISM IN THE WORLD OF FOOTBALL
For all the measures that officials around the globe are trying to initiate in order to curb the malaise of racism, little seems to be working on the ground. Numerous elite athletes, most of them footballers, were subjected to racist chants throughout 2019 leading to a never-ending crisis. Quite a few of England’s football stars were racially abused in March during their Euro 2020 qualifying victory over Montenegro, when Danny Rose admitted he couldn’t wait for his career to end to escape the constant abuse. Abuse at the club level has been even more rampant. In October, Bulgarian police arrested six people over racist abuse hurled at England players during their Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia. England won 6-0 at the Vasil Levski stadium. But the match was stopped twice in the first half as some fans wearing masks taunted coloured English players with Nazi salutes and monkey chants. The story was no different in Italy where even the likes of Romelu Lukaku were not spared.
REED PENALISED IN BAHAMAS, CADDIE SHOVES FAN IN OZ
Golfer Patrick Reed found himself in hot water at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas when the former Masters champion was penalised two strokes for appearing to deliberately improve his lie in a bunker during the third round. The penalty proved costly as Reed finished just two shots behind winner Henrik Stenson of Sweden in third place with tournament host Tiger Woods four shots behind in fourth. Later, Reed defended himself saying: “I wasn’t trying to improve a lie. If you break the rules unintentionally, it’s not cheating.” Reed found himself in the limelight again in the middle of December when his caddie was thrown out of the Presidents Cup in Melbourne by the PGA Tour after he “shoved” a fan who verbally abused Reed. The golfer had been heckled all week for his transgressions in Bahamas. The caddie, Kessler Karain, who is Reed’s brother-in-law, said in a statement: “I don’t think there’s one caddie I know who would blame me. I got off the cart and shoved him, said a couple things, probably a few expletives. Security came and I got back on the cart and left.”
DOPING: RUSSIA BANNED FOR FOUR YEARS
Despite many warnings and opportunities to mend their ways, Russia never quite learnt their lessons as doping offences showed a steady rise. Finally, World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) voted to ban the country from all global sporting events. This in effect means that Russia cannot participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and the football World Cup in Qatar in 2022. Ironically, before WADA imposed the ban, the body had reinstated the nation in 2018 after a three-year sporting ban. As a result of WADA’s decision, Russian officials will be ineligible to attend the Games. Grigory Rodchenkov, a former head of the Moscow lab, outlined how the Russian anti-doping officials had helped athletes take performance-enhancing substances. This is not the first time that Russian athletes will be missing the Olympics. They were banned from the Winter Olympics in South Korea last year. But 168 of their athletes were allowed to compete under the neutral flag.
GENDER DISCRIMINATION: USA WOMEN’S TEAM SUES US SOCCER
The US women’s team began a two-pronged battle before the World Cup in France this year. The first one was to retain the World Cup which they had won in Canada and the second was the fight for equal pay. Leading the charge were three senior members – Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd. Their fight was against US Soccer for pay equity and equal treatment by the national federation. Out of the eight World Cups for women, US have won four and their argument has been that they play more games than their male counterparts but receive less pay. FIFA, too, was impressed with their fight and doubled the prize money. The US team won the World Cup and the US governing body promised to meet all their demands. The most significant member of the US team, Rapinoe, however, courted controversy when she said before the tournament that she is not ‘f^*&^*’ going to the White House to meet President Trump who retorted by saying that they need to ‘WIN’ first. “We won’t accept anything less than equal pay. We show up for a game. If we win the game, if we lose the game, if we tie the game, we want to be paid equally, period,” Rapinoe said.
PROTESTS BY SPORTS PERSONS THIS YEAR
Late in the year when the country’s students began protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), it was a relatively little known football player, Darren Caldeira, who lit the flame for sportspersons in India to raise their voice against an act that is seen as discriminatory to minorities. Jwala Gutta, a former badminton star and a vocal athlete, then spoke in support of the protestors. She was quickly followed by cricketer Irfan Pathan. Commentator Harsha Bhogle wrote an emotional Facebook post that went viral. Across the globe, in Lima, fencer Race Imboden undertook a kneel down protest on the podium at the awards ceremony of the Pan-American Games in August. Hammer thrower Gwen Berry joined in the protest the next day. The knee protest was to express solidarity with NFL star Colin Kaepernick’s act three years ago against police brutality and arrests of blacks in USA.
TOI lists the top 10 sporting controversies in this decade
1. FIFA and UEFA scandals lead to resignations of Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini (2015 & 2016)
2. Racism in football (2010-2019)
3. Russia doping scandal (2016, 2019)
4. Bladerunner Oscar Pistorius found guilty of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (2013)
5. Mohammad Amir banned for spot fixing (2010), IPL spot fixing leads to major overhaul (2013)
6. Ball tampering by Australia in South Africa leads to sacking of skipper Steve Smith (2018)
7. Serena Williams’ outburst in US Open final (2018)
8. Luis Suarez bites his opponents (2010, 2013, 2014)
9. Narsingh Yadav vs Sushil Kumar clash ahead of Rio Olympics (2016)
10. NFL star Colin Kaepernick’s kneel down protests (2016)
Source : timesofindia