2007: sport's year of crime and punishment

A law unto themselves: From Craig Bellamy to Marion Jones, from 50m fines to lifetime bans, Nick Harris tries to make sense of a sporting year in which a succession of big names and some smaller ones were called to account
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The Independent Online


Offender (1) McLaren-Mercedes Formula One team.

Crime: Spying, passing of secret information.

Punishment: 50m fine; exclusion from 2007 constructors' championship.

What happened: Nigel Stepney, a senior engineer with Ferrari, passed a dossier of information about the Italian F1 team to McLaren's chief designer, Mike Coughlan. Both men denied wrongdoing and an initial hearing was inclusive. But it was subsequently shown that McLaren did, in fact, have access to "highly sensitive" Ferrari data about brakes, weight distribution, aerodynamic balance, tyre inflation and even strategy over a three-month period in the 2007 season. The McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa knew this, and when the FIA, the governing body, found out, it fined McLaren $100m (50m) and stripped them of all their constructors' points for the year.

Offender (2) New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick.

Crime: Spying, covert filming.

Punishment: $500,000 fine for Belichick; $250,000 fine for the Pats.

What happened: On 10 September, when the Patriots kicked off the 2007-08 season against the New York Jets, the Jets coach, Eric Mangini, told NFL security he suspected that the Pats were filming the Jets' signals, a heinous sporting crime in the US, akin to spying on private set-piece or tactical work in British football. The security offices apprehended a Pats' video assistant, Matt Estrella, confiscating a camera and tape on which Estrella had indeed recorded the Jets' signals on the direct orders of the Pats coach, Bill Belichick. Belichick, who later apologised, was fined $500,000 the maximum allowed for illegal videotaping, and the largest fine for a coach in the NFL's 87-year history. The Pats were fined $250,000 and will forfeit their first-round draft pick in 2008 if they make the play-offs.


Offender (1) Dylan Hartley.

Crime: Eye-gouging.

Punishment: 26-week ban.

What happened: The 21-year-old Northampton hooker was cited for making contact with the eye areas of three Wasps' players during a Premiership match in April. He pleaded not guilty on all counts but was found guilty on 24 April of two eye-gouging charges, on forwards Johnny O'Connor and James Haskell. The RFU disciplinary panel decided on a 30-week ban, reduced to 26 weeks "after taking into account Hartley's good character, youth and inexperience." Northampton withdrew a subsequent appeal, ruling Hartley out of any chance of playing for England in the World Cup.

Offender (2) Jeff Farmer.

Crime: Eye-gouging.

Punishment: Six-match ban.

What happened: The 30-year-old Aussie Rules forward with the Fremantle Dockers clawed the face of Kangaroos' Daniel Pratt during a cup match in March. His penalty was only as severe as six games because of his poor record: he had faced a disciplinary tribunal on 13 previous occasions, and served 10 suspensions. He was initially offered a four-game ban for the Pratt offence if he made an early guilty plea, but he declined to do that, and was awarded a harsher six games after a five-hour hearing. The AFL had to deny its tribunal system was too lenient after eye-gouging bans as low as one game.


Offender Satpal Singh.

Crime: Hitting opponent on the head with a hockey stick.

Punishment: 10-year ban.

What happened: Singh, of the Singh Sabha Sports Club (SSSC) in Hong Kong, was handed the unprecedented punishment in May by the HK Hockey Association for striking another player, Douglas Corbel, on the back of the head during a game in March. Corbel was taken to hospital and required stitches. Rival clubs subsequently argued that SSSC deserve harsher penalties as a club after a string of on-field offences. Some have been reported to police, albeit none leading to charges. In November last year, a rival striker's jaw was broken (which led to a seven-month ban for the player responsible). SSSC players have also been guilty of serial umpire abuse offences.

Offender (2) Chris Simon.

Crime: Hitting an opponent in the face with an ice-hockey stick.

Punishment: 25-game ban.

What happened: Simon, an NHL left-winger with the New York Islanders, got involved in a spat with the New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg in a game on 8 March. Hollweg had knocked Simon into the side boarding but no penalty was given. Four seconds later, Simon hit Hollweg in the face with a two-handed swing of his stick, leaving a cut that required two stitches. Simon was sent off, which triggered an automatic NHL investigation. The subsequent suspension was the longest in NHL history. The local district attorney considered criminal charges but decided against. Simon apologised to Hollweg, who said that settled matters. In a fans' poll, 52 per cent wanted police charges.


Offender (1) Trevor Brennan.

Crime: Punching a fan.

Punishment: Life ban, 17,000 fine, 3,000 to victim, costs.

What happened: The 34-year-old former Ireland rugby union international was warming up during a Heineken Cup game for Toulouse against Ulster when he jumped into the crowd, à la Eric Cantona, and attacked an Ulster supporter, Patrick Bamford. Brennan said this was in response to insults relating to his mother, something Bamford denied. The incident happened in January, and in March the European Rugby Cup handed out the life ban and financial penalties. Brennan appealed and after a hearing in June his ban was commuted to five years, although the financial penalties stood.

Offender (2)

Michael Vick.

Crime: Felonious dog fighting.

Punishment: 23 months in jail; indefinite suspension without pay from the NFL.

What happened: The 27-year-old Atlanta Falcons quarterback and three associates were charged in July with running an illegal dog-fighting business on Vicks' 15-acre estate in Virginia. Vick was accused of financing it, and involvement in dog fights, dog executions and related gambling. After a plea bargain - and a failed test for marijuana while on bail - Vick was sentenced on 10 December is serving his time at Northern Neck regional jail, Warsaw, Virginia. A return to the sport is extremely unlikely but remains a theoretical possibility assuming he retained his fitness while behind bars.


Offender (1) Craig Bellamy.

Crime: Hitting his team-mate John Arne Riise with a golf club.

Punishment: 80,000 fine;

and ultimately exile from Liverpool.

What happened: The 28-year-old striker was on a five-day Liverpool training camp-cum-bonding session in the Algarve in February when he had an argument with team-mate Riise. This apparently started in the early hours of the morning during a karaoke session in which Riise declined to take part. Bellamy reportedly called Riise names, and Riise, angered, squared up to the Welsh striker. Peace was restored, although not for long, as Bellamy reportedly went to fetch a golf club, then went in search of the Norwegian, and waved it at him, hitting his arms, legs or neither, depending on who you believe. Bellamy was fined but, apparently unashamed, celebrated a subsequent Liverpool goal with a mimicked golf swing. Bellamy left for West Ham United following differences with the manager, Rafael Benitez.

Offender (2) Shoaib Akhtar.

Crime: Hitting Mohammad Asif with a bat.

Punishment: 13-game ban; 28,000 fine.

What happened: Shoaib, one of Pakistan's fast bowlers at the Twenty20 World Championship, was sent home from South Africa before the event even started after abusing and hitting Mohammad Asif with a bat. "Akhtar not only hit Asif on the thigh with the bat, but he also used abusive language," said a senior Pakistan Cricket Board official, Shafqat Naghmi. Asif suffered a bruised thigh. It was reported that Shoaib was upset that Asif and another team-mate, Shahid Afridi, had disagreed with his own view that he was held in the same esteem in Pakistan cricket as Imran Khan. Akhtar was found guilty of three charges: hitting a team-mate, accusing Afridi of involvement, and holding a personal news conference on his return from South Africa.


Offender (1) Pacman Jones.

Crime: Altercation with an exotic dancer at a strip club.

Punishment: Suspension for entire 2007 NFL season.

What happened: The lap-dancer incident, in Las Vegas in February, was the straw that broke the camel's back for Jones, a fiery 24-year-old cornerback with the Tennessee Titans. He got into a scuffle after throwing thousands of $1 bills at strippers, and then allegedly hit one when she took some money. He also bit a security guard's leg, and someone later fired a gun, though Jones says it was not anyone in his entourage. Jones has also consorted with drug dealers (though not been linked to dealing), and has a history littered with assaults, public intoxication, nightclub scuffles, driving offences and vandalism. He met the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in April to discuss his "issues" and was banned the following week. He is appealing the ban.

Offender (2) Jeff Farmer.

Crime: Punching a security guard at a Perth nightclub.

Punishment: Six-week suspension, 2,100 club fine, 1,250 court fine.

What happened: The firebrand Aussie Rules striker (see "Violence on the field of play", above) is nicknamed "The Wizard" for creating goals from nothing. But he can also conjure up trouble in a flash. The nightclub incident happened in April after he sneaked into the Paramount club through an exit and was ejected by a bouncer. Farmer tried the back door, and when the same bouncer tried to stop him, he thumped him in the eye socket. He pleaded guilty in court to assault and was fined. His club also fined him and added six weeks to a playing suspension he was already serving for eye-gouging. In July, police charged Farmer over a separate incident of criminal damage to a car after leaving a casino. He was fined 320. His club also fined him 4,240 (the maximum allowed under AFL rules) and requested he donate 8,500 to charity, but did not suspend him again.


Offender (1) Marion Jones.

Crime: Covered up past steroid use, which she finally admitted in October.

Punishment: Two-year ban; forfeiture of all prizes, including Olympic gold medals.

What happened: Jones, now 32, was the supreme female athlete of her generation whose career peaked at the Sydney Olympics of 2000, when she won three gold medals (100 metres, 200m, 400m relay) and two bronze (long jump, 100m relay). But her exploits were long shrouded in doubt, not least via her association to C J Hunter (one-time husband) and Tim Montgomery (ex-boyfriend), who were both mired in drug scandals. In October this year, Jones finally admitted that she had taken steroids before the 2000 Games. She also pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal agents investigating Balco, the American company that provided numerous leading athletes from various sports, including Britain's Dwain Chambers, with a then-undetectable steroid, Tetrahydrogestrinone aka THG, or "The Clear" and growth hormones.

Offender (2) Barry Bonds.

Alleged crime Perjury, obstruction of justice in relation to Balco.

Punishment: To be determined.

What happened: On 15 November, the 43-year-old former San Francisco Giants baseball player who set the all-time home run record of 762 in 2007 was indicted on four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice in relation to allegations that he lied under oath (in December 2003) about his alleged use of steroids. Bonds' former personal trainer, Greg Anderson, served a prison sentence in 2005 after admitting conspiracy to distribute steroids, although he never named Bonds. Anderson served a second prison term, starting in 2006, for contempt of court for refusing to testify about Bonds to a federal grand jury investigating Balco. He was released, reimprisoned for further contempt of court, and released again on 15 November, when Bonds was indicted. Bonds faces trial in the new year.


Offender (1) Sergio Garcia.

Crime: Spitting in a hole.

Punishment: Fine of $20,000.

What happened: The 27-year-old "El Niño" of golf blew up a storm in March after spitting into the bottom of the cup at the 13th green after bogeying the hole during the WCC-CA Championship in Miami. "I just missed that putt and wasn't too happy," he said. "But the spit did go in the middle of the hole and wasn't going to affect anyone else. If it did, I would have wiped it off." Fines in golf are common for misdemeanours including bad language and ungentlemanly behaviour towards stewards but governing bodies keep the amounts secret. John Daley once complained of a huge fine and joked that Tiger Woods had responded along the lines: "Hey pal, that's nothing compared to what I've paid before!"

Offender (2) Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Crime: Walking out on a match.

Punishment: 11,750 fine, 4,050 docked earnings, 5,000 costs, 900 ranking points.

What happened: "The Rocket" walked out of his UK Championship quarter-final against Stephen Hendry in last December when trailing 4-1. He had just missed an attempted pot when he shook hands with a bemused Hendry and the referee, Jan Verhass, and made an early dash for home from the best-of-17 match. O'Sullivan apologised to fans and his opponent afterwards, saying he had had "a bad day at the office". O'Sullivan attended a WPBSA disciplinary hearing into the matter on 31 May, and his management company said they were "disappointed" with the verdict and punishment. O'Sullivan's solicitor, Leo Martin, said the player had made "declarations of a sensitive and personal nature" in his defence.


Offender (1) Robert Winston.

Crime: Passing information for reward.

Punishment: Banned from riding for a year.

What happened: Before the trial (and exoneration) of Kieren Fallon, Winston became the most high-profile jockey to be punished to date after an inquiry into claims of race fixing. A Horseracing Regulatory Authority disciplinary panel in February found Winston guilty of passing information for reward. An investigation centred on 37 races between June 2003 and February 2004. Winston rode horses in 21 of them. An unlicensed bookmaker, Ian Nicholl, was warned off indefinitely during the process. Winston was judged to have misled HRA investigators.

Offender (2) Chris Munce.

Crime: Betting, and selling tips.

Punishment: 30 months in prison.

What happened: Munce, a leading Australian flat jockey and former Melbourne Cup winner, was sentenced in Hong Kong in March to two and a half years in prison after a judge said he had "undermined the integrity of racing" in Hong Kong. It was the first time a jockey had been jailed for taking money for tips. Munce's lawyer acknowledged his client had broken HK racing rules by betting (by proxy, via a middleman who also bet on his tips) but argued he had not committed a criminal offence, that is: fixing races, and therefore the crime was "victimless". The lawyer said the case should have been one for racing officials, not the courts, but the judge disagreed, saying the reputation of racing was at stake. Prosecutors said Munce gave tips to a businessman 17 times between December 2005 and May 2006, and some included races that Munce rode in.