Nothing brings people together like major sports events. However, they also create massive arguments when they’re controversial. They can divide fans and enrage them in a variety of ways. First, if the officiating is dodgy or the game appears to be a fix, then questions will be asked.
Furthermore, the location and the timing of an event can cause massive problems. The controversial Tokyo Olympics in 2021 is a clear example. Today we’ll take a look at 20 of the most controversial sports events. Take a look at the list below via Medium and Bleacher Report.
20. Astros Sign-Stealing Scandal (2017):
There’s no doubt that the Houston Astros cheated their way to a World Series victory. That is controversial enough in itself. But even worse is the fact that MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred didn’t strip them of their titles. It’s one of the most bizarre reactions to blatant cheating in sports history. The Astros’ sign-stealing scandal saw them use live feed footage and signals to overcome rival teams.
An MLB investigation determined that the Astros’ conduct was disgraceful. While they suffered severe penalties in the draft and lost five million dollars, they kept their World Series win. The symbolic nature of this was ridiculous because they didn’t deserve it. Meanwhile, the players took an active role in the cheating but MLB didn’t punish them at all. To sum up, it was a farce.
Fans of all the major leagues love the draft because it always throws up a few curveballs. The modern version of the draft sees the worst-performing teams receive the first picks to pick the presumable best players.. However, in 1985, things were a little different. It was essentially a glorified lottery. Organizers placed each team in an envelope and they were randomly selected from a barrel.
Patrick Ewing was the number one commodity in the ’85 NBA draft. Everybody knew that the New York Knicks were desperate to sign him. Finally, they ended up with the number one pick and conspiracies emerged. Some claimed that the corner of the Knicks’ envelope was bent. Others say that it was placed in a freezer and was cooler to touch. It was extremely controversial.
Technically, this wasn’t even a competitive event. Mayweather faced Nasukawa in an exhibition bout on New Year’s Eve from the Saitama Super Arena. An elite kickboxer, Nasukawa is a famous star in the combat sports world but was no match for the American boxer. Mayweather dropped the RISE champion twice before the referee intervened and stopped the fight. However, many fans cried foul.
They believed that the fight was a fix because Mayweather won so easily. They pointed to the fact that Nasukawa was an elite kickboxer and Mayweather destroyed him with little effort. The reality was that Mayweather won because he was about 30 pounds heavier and an elite boxer. It may have looked questionable but the reason ‘Money’ took the fight was that he knew he would win.
The New England Patriots became one of the most hated teams in the NFL because they were caught doing several questionable things. Everybody hates a winner. But it was also the fact that the Pats didn’t mind breaking the rules. We saw this with the SpyGate scandal. They took things to a new level in the 2015 AFC Championship Game. New England played the Colts, shellacking them 45-7.
However, one of the big takeaways from the game was that the Patriots cheated by using underinflated footballs. This was supposed to take the air out of the ball for the Colts’ passing offense. The fact is Brady specifically requested them and received a four-game suspension for his troubles. In the end, he came back to win the NFL MVP award. so he got the last laugh but the Pats became even more notorious.
Cassius Clay stunned the world when he forced Sonny Liston to retire on his stool. The new heavyweight champion agreed to defend his title in a rematch. This became one of the most controversial fights of all time. Clay won by knockout after Liston went down in the first round. However, the blow shouldn’t have resulted in a finish. An enraged Clay stood over Liston and told him to get up.
Many believe that the mafia forced Liston to throw the fight because of debts. It effectively ended Liston’s career and he died just five years later in dark circumstances. The entire rivalry was controversial because Liston allegedly tried to blind Clay in the first fight. He rubbed a substance on his gloves but it didn’t help. Ali then went on to achieve greatness beyond his wildest dreams.
This may seem farcical but many people believed that the NFL rigged Super Bowl LV from the start. This was because the narrative was too perfect in their eyes. Tom Brady won a record seventh ring in his first season with Tampa. Meanwhile, Tampa also became the first franchise to win the trophy in their home stadium. Meanwhile, it appeared as though refereeing decisions went Tampa’s way.
The Bucs’ decent regular-season record didn’t inspire confidence. But they proceeded to run away with the game and crushed the Chiefs. However, the reality is that Patrick Mahomes went missing and had one of the worst games of his career. Furthermore, Kansas City had a terrible week of preparation. Andy Reid’s son was involved in a DUI incident and the Chiefs didn’t come to Florida until the weekend of the game.
South Korea and Japan co-hosted the World Cup in 2002. It was the first time soccer’s biggest tournament took place in Asia, and Brazil defeated Germany in the final. However, one of the stories of the competition was Korea’s progression. They received a lot of dubious refereeing decisions in their favor and defeated Italy in shocking circumstances. Referee Byron Moreno awarded Korea a penalty after just three minutes.
The penalty was dodgy but the Koreans missed anyway. They received more good luck when Moreno failed to caution any of their players for constant foul play. Finally, he sent off Francesco Totti for diving late in the game. This proved decisive because the Koreans scored a winner in extra time after the referee chalked off an Italian goal. Six years later customs officers arrested Moreno for trafficking cocaine.
Billie Jean King was one of the biggest female sports stars of her day. She was also a major proponent of women’s rights. Of course, she didn’t take kindly to Bobby Riggs when he claimed that he could beat any professional woman. Bear in mind that Riggs was 55 at the time. He offered a lucrative prize to any woman who was brave enough to step up and face him in a tennis match.
King accepted the challenge and even won the game. The game was controversial before they even played because of the age difference between the two athletes. King was just 29 but Riggs wasn’t in his prime. Critics claimed that a prime Riggs would have destroyed King in a couple of sets. Then, it became even more dubious when it emerged that Riggs owed gambling debts to the mafia.
UFC President Dana White didn’t care if there was a nuclear apocalypse because nothing was going to stop him from holding events during the height of the global health crisis. During that time, the sports world came to a standstill. But White was determined to continue holding fight cards and scrambled desperately to find venues. He went from state to state and even looked at hosting events on Native American reservations.
Finally, he reached an agreement with the powers that be in Abu Dhabi. They gave the UFC the use of an artificial island that gained the moniker “Fight Island.” Then, they flew fighters in and continued as normal. White didn’t stop to think about the morality of the situation but pointed out that the UFC was the first major sports organization to rebound. His actions split fans down the middle.
The Sacramento Kings were desperately unlucky in the 2002 Western Conference Finals. They played the Lakers and believed that they could go all the way. However, they didn’t count on Bavetta and his pernicious influence. This was definitely the one that got away for the Kings. That’s because of terrible officiating in game six of the series. In fact, it was so controversial, fans cried foul.
Later, former NBA official Tim Donaghy rocked the NBA when he claimed it was deliberate. He said that the NBA selected Bevatta with the intention of sending the series into a seventh game. Clearly, the Lakers received some dubious calls in their favor throughout the game. It’s obvious to anybody looking back, but there was nothing that the Kings could do about this at the time.
Technically. college football players are unpaid amateurs. While we know that they receive many personal benefits, the reality is that their schools are the big winners. Football programs are worth tens of millions of dollars to their schools in TV revenue money. As a result, many of them were desperate for their teams to play in 2020. But the problem was that the rest of the sports world had shut down.
The different leagues had to decide for themselves if it was acceptable to put the health of these young men at risk. It was impossible for them to cocoon like NBA players because that would be special treatment, which is specifically banned under NCAA regulations. In the end, the majority of Division I leagues went ahead because money talks. Also, many young athletes wanted to play to pursue their dream of making it to the NFL.
Boxing has many romantic venues. The likes of Madison Square Garden, the MGM Grand, and London’s York Hall are hallowed ground for the sport. Recently, oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia are trying to buy their way into the action. The Saudi government is actively pursuing sports events because they want to change their image to the world. This is controversial because it doesn’t change the lives of its citizens.
Anthony Joshua fought Andy Ruiz in a rematch after he suffered the first defeat of his professional career. Instead of fighting again in New York or in Joshua’s native U.K, they met in Riyadh. This was because Saudi Arabia threw money at Matchroom, Joshua’s promoters. While it was great for the boxer, it wasn’t good for fans of either man because the fight was so far away.
Most countries in Europe closed their borders in 2020 because of the global health crisis. The free movement of people wasn’t such a good thing when there was a genuine risk to millions of lives. Meanwhile, UEFA planned to host a tournament in 14 countries across the continent. This seemed like a crazy move because it meant thousands of people traveled to games.
Immediately, Ireland and Spain withdrew two stadiums from the tournament. But it went ahead everywhere else. Players tested positive over the course of the next two months. Furthermore, there were spikes in cases across the U.K and other nations where fans gathered in their thousands. In terms of entertainment, it was brilliant. However, when it comes to public health, it was very controversial.
This became one of Muhammad Ali’s defining moments. He defeated the younger George Foreman in a rematch to reclaim his heavyweight crown. Ali used his Rope-A-Dope tactic to survive against the hard-hitting Foreman. Then, he secured the knockout victory in the right round However, this was a controversial fight because of the location. Also, two dictators funded the fighter’s purses.
Zaire Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko agreed to host the event because he thought it would enhance his global image. Meanwhile, the notorious Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi contributed to the boxer’s five million dollar purses. These were two of the most bloodthirsty and abusive leaders on the continent. But boxing is a dirty sport and doesn’t care about who it associates with.
Some moments in sport are so brazen that they become iconic. The ‘Hand of God’ remains one of the most controversial events in World Cup history. Diego Maradona broke English hearts when he palmed the ball past Peter Shilton into the net. The English players protested but the referee allowed the goal to stand. Shilton never forgave Maradona for his moment of cheating.
Then he scored one of the most spectacular goals ever when he danced past half of the English team. While English fans still complain about this result, they overlook the fact that their players spent the game hacking at Maradona’s ankles. The Argentine star had the last laugh as he embarrassed the English. His country won the World Cup and Maradona sealed his place as an icon.
Baseball is traditionally one of the most corrupt sports in the world. Of course, steroid use became the story of the day at the turn of the 21st century. But the sport always had a problem with gambling. The most notorious incident came in 1919 when the Chicago White Sox played the Cincinnati Reds. In short, the White Sox threw the game and sealed their place in infamy.
A gambling syndicate bribed eight members of the White Sox roster to lose. It became a national outrage and all eight men received lifetime bans from the sport. These included the legendary ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. Before this event, he was on track to make the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, they earned the “Black Sox” moniker because they tarnished the image of their franchise.
Russia hosted the World Cup in 2018 for the first time in its history. However, this was highly controversial because of their foreign policy and attitudes toward the LGBT community. Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine and illegally occupied the Crimea region. Meanwhile, his repressive regime prevented any meaningful opposition from challenging him. Critics believed that the nation shouldn’t receive the chance to flaunt itself in front of the globe.
The tournament went ahead and was a massive success. It was extremely entertaining and saw some brilliant displays from different teams. Also, Russia cracked down on its notorious soccer hooligans and prevented them from having a negative impact. Despite this, dissenting voices remained. They condemned FIFA because the governing body allowed Russia to sports wash its image.
The global health crisis became the story of the world in 2020. It had a profound effect on the world of sport but some events plowed on. These included the NBA postseason. This was a controversial decision because there was also significant social unrest across the United States at the time. However, a decision was made to host the playoffs in Disney World in Florida.
Many players felt dubious because of personal health concerns. These related to their family members as well as themselves. In the end, the playoffs went ahead with relative smoothness. It was a massive operation that required hundreds of supporting personnel to stay on site. Players also faced restrictions about where they could go and who they could bring into the bubble.
Few sporting events in history are as controversial as the Qatar World Cup. It’s even crazier because it hasn’t even happened yet. This is a twisted tale of corruption and human rights abuse. When the news broke the tiny Middle Eastern nation would host soccer’s most prestigious tournament, fans were in disbelief. Qatar had no history of success in the sport and it was so hot that they rescheduled the tournament for winter.
Meanwhile, the country lacked the infrastructure to host the games and had to build stadia from scratch. They hired a host of immigrant workers and endured severe criticism from human rights support groups for exploiting them. Furthermore, the majority of the FIFA committee, who handed the tournament to Qatar, received bans from the sport on charges of corruption. In sum, it stinks.
This event was meant to be Japan’s moment in the spotlight. But instead, it became a major burden and the cause of intense division across the island nation. In short, the global health crisis forced Japan to defer the Olympics for one year. However, many citizens wanted their government to cancel the event because of a slow vaccine roll-out. They feared that it would become a superspreader event.
An incredible 30% of Japan’s population is over the age of 60 and vulnerable to the crisis. However, the Japanese government refused to cancel the Games because of the financial burden. Instead, they announced that they would take place in empty stadiums. The Games became even more controversial when athletes began to test positive. These included U.S. tennis star Coco Gauff, amongst others.