World Football's Biggest Scandals

Football is often called the beautiful game, but it contains its fair share of ugliness too. The sport has been dogged by numerous scandals over the years, from match-fixing to drug abuse to organised episodes of cheating. In this article we have picked out eight of the biggest scandals football has ever seen.

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This page is written by
Siobhan Aslett
Siobhan AslettIrish Sportsbook Specialist
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Rebecca Mackay
Rebecca MackayHead of Content

FIFA Corruption Scandal

The football world was left stunned when seven FIFA officials were arrested just before the start of the 65th FIFA Congress in 2015. A total of 41 arrests have now been made in relation to the case, with 14 individuals convicted of charges such as racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. 

The scandal centred on allegedly fraudulent deals between officials from CONMEBOL (the South American federation) and CONCACAF (the federation for the Caribbean, North America and Central America) and sports marketing executives. The US Department of Justice claimed that the latter group had paid bribes to secure the broadcast rights for international matches and tournaments.

Authorities in Switzerland also opened an investigation into potential bribery in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

Diego Maradona’s Drug Ban

Maradona was past his peak by the time of the 1994 World Cup, but he was still the biggest name in football. After going through an intensive training regime to get fit for the tournament in the United States, the Argentina international was thrown out in disgrace before the knockout stage.

Maradona was banned by the authorities after a drug test uncovered ephedrine, a banned substance that aids weight loss, in his bloodstream. It was an ignominious end to the superstar’s international career, which had seen him win the World Cup just eight years earlier.

Calciopoli Match-fixing Scandal 

An earthquake hit the Italian game in 2006 when telephone interceptions revealed that a number of clubs had been colluding with the refereeing authorities to influence the appointment of match officials for Serie A games. 

Juventus were expelled from the top division and sent down to Serie B, while Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina were all hit with point deductions. Despite the turmoil, the Italy national team won that summer’s World Cup in Germany, beating France on penalties in the final.

The Marseille Affair

Marseille dominated French football in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was closing in on a fifth consecutive title in the 1992/93 campaign. The club wanted to win the league as early as possible in order to have more preparation time for the Champions League final, and they went to extreme lengths to try and wrap things up as soon as they could.

It later emerged that Marseille president Bernard Tapie and general manager Jean-Pierre Bernès had bribed Valenciennes players to underperform in what ended in a 1-0 win for Marseille. The southern side was stripped of the title and Tapie was sent to prison.

Andres Escobar Murder

One of the biggest tragedies in football history took place during the 1994 World Cup. Colombia were heavily fancied going into the tournament, with some even tipping them as dark horses to lift the Jules Rimet trophy, but they ultimately failed to make it beyond the group stage amid considerable pressure from back home.

Centre-back Escobar scored an own goal in defeat by the United States. After returning to Colombia, he was murdered by two men outside a nightclub, supposedly in retribution for his misstep. A nation was sent into mourning, with more than 120,000 Colombians attending his funeral.

Roberto Rojas Cuts Himself

One of the most audacious incidents of all time took place in a World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Chile in 1999. The Chileans needed to win but were 1-0 down heading into the closing stages, so goalkeeper Rojas decided to take the law into his own hands.

With 70 minutes on the clock, Rojas threw himself to the floor while clutching his head. He claimed to have been struck by a firework thrown by a Brazilian fan, and the game was promptly abandoned. However, video clips emerged showing that Rojas had deliberately cut himself with a razor blade he had been hiding in his sock. After the footage was discovered, the goalkeeper was banned for life by FIFA.

Mexico’s Underage Players

Mexico hosted the 1983 FIFA World Youth Championship and was keen to get their hands on the trophy at a future edition in Saudi Arabia six years later. To advance to the competition, they needed to book a place by finishing first or second at the CONCACAF Under-20 Tournament.

The clue is in the name: this was a contest for players under the age of 20. But Mexico was found guilty of knowingly fielding at least four overage players and promptly banned from international football for two years. The suspension denied the senior team the chance to participate in the 1990 World Cup.

Germany and Austria, Friends with Benefits

A shock victory over Germany in their first game at the 1982 World Cup gave Algeria a real chance of progressing to the knockout stage, even after they lost their second match to Austria. Their subsequent 3-2 win against Chile put them on the brink of qualification.

There was one game left to play, but only a 1-0 triumph for Germany over Austria would send Algeria out and the two European teams through. The Germans scored early on and the rest of the match was played out at a walking pace, with both teams happy with the score line as it stood. Television viewers and fans inside the stadium were horrified, but there was nothing Algeria could do.

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