I'd like to start this post by saying I'm not really a big believer in conspiracy theories. I don't tend to think elite groups are controlling our daily lives or withholding "the truth" from us. To do so would require organisation and will power on a level that I have never observed. Still, researching and writing about them is kind of fun and if nothing else these theories have their place as stories within pop-culture.
Here are a few that I have heard of across the years. I've stayed away from the obvious conspiracies in regards to straight-up match-fixing and because of my sporting and cultural background, the stories below have a very Eurocentric feel to them. However, I'd love to hear any tales that you have come across of sporting conspiracies from around the world as well as your take on the stories below - what do you believe?
Ronaldo and the 1998 World Cup Final
Given the magnitude of this match it's not surprising that there are multiple theories about what happened to the world's best striker in the run-up to the 1998 World Cup Final. What we do know is that about an hour and a half before the kick-off of the most-watched sporting event on the planet one of it's biggest stars was left off reigning champions Brazil's teamsheet and then half an hour later he was added back in!
What happened to Ronaldo in the hours leading up to the final? Was it just a case of a stress-related illness or were there more sinister forces at play? Why one minute was he not fit enough to play and then next he was strolling out to sing the national anthem?
The simple answer is that while preparing for the match Ronaldo suffered some form of a panic attack. Some reports say that the attack was so severe that it resulted in the striker convulsing and foaming at the mouth. Certainly, several Brazilian players later commented that during the knockout stages of the '98 tournament, the striker became increasingly anxious & would often break down in tears back at the team hotel.
However, if you don't fancy the boring and yet more plausible chain of events just described then how about some of the more fanciful conspiracy theories? These range from the idea the Ronaldo was poisoned, to him having a breakdown because his girlfriend cheated on him but perhaps the darkest allegation is that Brazil sold the '98 World Cup for around $20million to FIFA and the promise that they would get an easy run in the 2002 competition as well as the rights to host a tournament in the near future. Of course, Brazil went on to win the 2002 World Cup and then host the 2014 competition so that conspiracy theory must be true, right?
While the above accounts are all based on wild speculation, there was an investigation into the role that Nike had in adding Ronaldo's name back to the teamsheet at the last minute. In fact, several Brazilian players at the time, most notably Ronaldo's fellow striker Edmundo AKA 'The Animal' has consistently maintained that it was Nike that forced the Brazilian coaching team to include Ronaldo in the starting 11 against the recommendations of the medical team and several of the players - Edmundo was said to be one of the first on the scene when Ronaldo collapsed and so witnessed first hand the severity of the attack.
Not long prior to the 1998 World Cup, Nike had signed the biggest sponsorship deal in the history of international soccer with the Brazil national team and there had already been concerns raised that the sportswear giant had an influence on team selection and style of play. Ultimately the investigation was a bit of a whitewash and the incident drifted into fiction. As for Edmundo's account of events, I guess you have to ask yourself two questions. Firstly, do you believe anything that I guy with the nickname 'The Animal' tells you? Secondly, given that it was ultimately Edmundo that missed out when Ronaldo was reinstated, could he have an ulterior motive for spreading this story?
David Moyes' Hot Balls
I know what image has just popped up in your head upon reading that title - enjoy it!
Everton's run to a Champions League spot in the 2004/05 Premier League season helped establish David Moyes as one of the league's best managers and would ultimately contribute to him replacing fellow Scotsman Alex Ferguson when he retired from his position at Manchester United. However, the 2005/06 season did not go as well for Moyes and his Everton team and it started early on when they were knocked out of the Champions League in the qualifying round by Spanish team Villarreal. It was a bitter blow for the Toffees who had built a competitive team on a shoestring budget that could really have blossomed with the money that the Champions League proper would have brought.
It was also pretty bad luck that they were drawn against a side as competent and skilful as The Yellow Submarine who would ultimately make it to the semi-finals of that season's competition. The 05/06 Villarreal side included Argentine playmaker and transfer deadline day legend Roman Riquelme as well as familiar names such as Diego Forlan and Santi Carzola. However, Moyes refused to believe that it was just "bad luck" that saw his team drawn against arguably the toughest opponents in the qualifying round, he felt that it was a deliberate ploy from UEFA to ensure that English teams didn't dominate the competition. Moyes went on to state that he believed UEFA had tampered with the balls used to draw the teams to ensure that one of the balls was hotter than the others, making it easy to distinguish when being pulled out of the pot!
Moyes would go on to explain that UEFA's grudge against the English was in large part due to the fact that Liverpool had won the tournament the year before meaning that 5 English teams (1 more than usual) would reach the group stage of the tournament if Everton had qualified. UEFA apparently wanted to avoid the kind of dominance that the English clubs had enjoyed throughout the late 70s and early 80s when we won the competition 6 years on the trot. Is there any truth to these accusations? We do know that UEFA is riddled with corruption but then we also know that managers love to gripe, bitch and shift the blame of their team's poor performances onto external factors - perhaps ultimately it was Moyes performance in that regard that convinced Ferguson he was his heir apparent...
More Yakka than Hakka, the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final
The 1995 Rugby World Cup Final is arguably the sport's greatest moment and certainly a wonderful story for a South African nation that for so long had been excluded from international sport due to apartheid. In fact, it was so good an underdog story that Hollywood decided to make a movie about it (Invictus) starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman and directed by none other than Clint Eastwood.
Going into the final, South Africa were rank outsiders against the all-conquering All Blacks but turned in a gritty display to win a very tight match that saw all points from both sides come from the boots of their kickers. Were the Springbok's defensive tactics simply very effective at quelling the natural attacking flair of New Zealand or had they had a helping hand from somewhere?
It's fairly well documented and apparent to anyone who watched the match that the All Blacks were suffering on the day of the final with most accounts stating that the squad had been subject to food poisoning in the run-up to the match. The real question then is, was this just bad luck or had someone slipped a dodgy substance into the team's pre-match meal? In a Cludeoesque type revelation, conspiracy theorists (including some of the All Blacks team) pinned it on a waitress called Suzie, in the other restaurant with the water. The fact that Suzie wasn't the team's usual waitress nor could she be found after the game (probably because she doesn't exist) and the fact that the All Blacks were asked to dine in a different location than normal for the meal that is said to have caused the illness have all lead to the spread of this conspiracy theory.