Think of minority sports and you envision the World Tiddlywinks Championships or something similarly uninspiring.
But with human nature being what it is, even sports you’d never think of as being exciting have had their fair share of controversies, cheats and streakers. It’s just all on a slightly smaller scale than the headline-grabbing scandals of football, generally with not as many zeroes on the ends of the sums involved.
But there are bastards, cheaters, opportunists and cutthroats in every game, and the world of minority sports, it turns out, has plenty of them. Here are some of the best sporting scandals you’ve never heard about…
In 2015, Georgian chess grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze was stripped of his title after it was found he was going to the toilet before every move and using a phone to work out what move to make. Officials wondered why he was going to the toilet so frequently and always using the same cubicle, and a phone was found hidden behind the cistern, wrapped in toilet paper. Nigalidze denied it was his, but it was logged into his Facebook account and had a chess app open with exactly the game he was playing in it. He was banned for three years and had his grandmaster title revoked.
Last year, Canadian grandmaster Anton Kovalyov got in an argument at the Chess World Cup in Tbilisi caused by his wearing shorts. A referee demanded he wear long trousers, and after being told that he couldn’t (as his trousers didn’t fit him due to weight gain) proceeded to call Kovalyov a ‘gypsy’, causing Kovalyov to storm out.
In September 2012, handball star Nikola Karabatić was arrested following accusations of match-fixing. His team, Montpelier, had lost 31-28 to relegation-fighting rivals Cesson, after already securing the league title.
Suspicions were raised when it was revealed that something like 40 times the usual amount of bets were placed on the game. Karabatić was fined 10,000 Euros but continued to have a pretty sweet career in handball, being named the International Handball Federation’s player of the year twice since.
Jai alai is a sort of squash/lacrosse/Wolverine hybrid that was briefly huge in the States and seems like really good fun while clearly being deadly. It’s still really popular in the Basque region, but the once-enormous American jai alai industry is tiny now.
It was genuinely deadly for businessman Roger Wheeler, who owned World Jai Alai in the 1970s. He hired former FBI agent H. Paul Rico to do security for him, and Rico decided to use the opportunity to set up his former mob informants, one of whom was notorious gangster Whitey Bulger (the guy Johnny Depp played in Black Mass), in a skimming operation. When Wheeler discovered this, he ended up being killed stone dead.
Last year, British Scrabble champion Allan Simmons was banned from competing in tournaments for three years after he was alleged to have looked at the tiles he was drawing from the bag and swapped them for better ones. The rules state a player has to display their empty hand before reaching into the bag, and must keep the bag at shoulder height when making a swap.
Brazilian synchronised diving partnership Giovanna Pedroso and Ingrid Oliveira came unexpectedly last in the 10m synchronised diving final in the 2016 Olympics. This was later alleged to be the result of a falling out caused by one booting the other out of their shared room the night before, in order to have sex with one of the kayaking team. Pedroso and Oliveira are no longer diving partners.
At the end of the group stages in the 2012 Summer Olympics, two matches between China and South Korea descended into farce as both teams attempted to lose in order to avoid playing against teams from their own countries in the quarter-finals. They all played as terribly as they could, like competitively terribly - the longest rally lasted four hits.
Amid boos, all eight offending players were ejected from the tournament (which was controversial in its own right - the players argued they were doing their best to increase their teams’ chances of winning the tournament) and the structure of Olympic badminton was changed before the next Games.
The world of bowls was excited about a new tournament in 2015: World Series Bowls was sold to people with the promise that it could turn the sport into something more akin to modern darts - younger viewers, younger players and a lot more money.
Then the whole thing turned out to be fraudulent and Stephen Roberts, one of the founders of the event, disappeared to Russia with all the money, a fact learned by his business partner only when he went to Roberts’ house. And, in a move that really screams “I’m about to abscond to Russia”, it turned out he’d eBayed his fridge.