The Rundown

Top 10 sporting frauds

The Rundown

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The strange case of the Worcestershire cricketer who recently conned his way into a first XI contract has raised eyebrows - and laughter - in the world of sport.

But Adrian Shankar is far from the only conman who has used his wits to earn an unmerited taste of what it's like to play sport at the highest level.

We take a look at sport's top 10 fraudsters. 


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Cricket - Adrian Shankar

First class cricketer, junior
tennis star who played at a national level, Arsenal academy player signed when
Arsene Wenger joined the Gunners, and Cambridge law graduate. On the face of
it, it seemed that there was no end to Shankar's talents; in reality, his true
gift was for spinning a yarn.

The 29-year-old appears to have
spent years trying to talk his way into a proper county cricket contract, and
when Worcestershire signed him up in the spring of 2011 (on the back of an
apparently stellar spell in Sri Lankan Twenty20) it seemed his years of trying
to get a game for various county second XIs was over.

Within weeks his life
unravelled, however, as it emerged that he had faked documents relating to his
age in order to land the contract (and also qualify for ECB young cricketer
aid).

That sparked his sacking by the
club and prompted an investigation by West Mercia police that is still ongoing
at the time of writing. You can read the full extraordinary story here.

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Football - Ali Dia

When you get a call from a man
you believe to be Liberian football great George Weah, and that man claims his
talented cousin is available on a free transfer, you tend to listen. Which is
what Southampton manager Graeme Souness (pictured, with head in hands) did when a university student prankster
insisted that hapless non-league 'striker' Ali Dia was a chip off the old
block, a possible superstar in the mould of the former World Player of the
Year.

Nowadays he would be asked to
submit DVD evidence, attend a trial at the very least, but this was 1996 and Saints
were in the middle of an injury crisis. After only one training session and a
cancelled reserve match Dia - who was not even Liberian but French-Senegalese -
was called to the bench for a Premier League game against Leeds United.

When Matt Le Tissier picked up
an injury after half an hour, Dia was brought on and his headless-chicken
performance quickly showed that someone had been pulling Souey's leg.

Taken off after three quarters
of an hour, Dia turned up for some physio the next morning, left, and never
came back. It turned out he was not a Senegal international, had never played
for Paris Saint-Germain and that Weah didn't have a clue who he was. A short
spell back in non-league followed before he did the decent thing and went back
to university.

Football - Alessandro
Zarelli

The cautionary tale of Alex
Zarelli was similar to Dia's but more intricate in its planning and execution -
and ultimately more successful. The Italian fraudster briefly managed to take a
number of small British clubs for a ride after he faked documents from his
homeland's FA saying he was part of an official exchange programme, and had
played for Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday.

His claims were readily believed
by sides struggling in the lower leagues, who were understandably keen to take
on a self-proclaimed flair player willing to work for low wages so long as his accommodation
was thrown in.

Whether he just fancied an
extended holiday in semi-rural British locations, or genuinely believed he
could make it as a pro, the petty larceny that followed saw him fleece hotel
and B&B stays from Lisburn Distillery and Bangor City, before Total Network
Solutions smelled a rat and contacted his so-called contacts before offering
him terms.

In the end a Sky Sports crew was
tipped off and, posing as football scouts, they arranged an interview with
Zarelli. In an Academy Award-worthy performance, he lied through his teeth
before being confronted with the truth. He calmly admitted the whole thing before
striding away like Keyser Soze, never to be seen again.

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Golf - Maurice Flitcroft

'Maurice Flitcroft, Golfer, England' was all that was needed to
send the late conman mail, so notorious was the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard worker turned
golfer. Flitcroft tried to wangle entries as a professional to several golf
tournaments, and somehow blagged his way into final qualifying for the 1976
Open at Royal Birkdale that saw Seve Ballesteros make his sensational Major championship
debut as a 19-year-old.

Flitcroft had seen the game
played on TV and fallen in love with it, so he bought some mail order golf
clubs and took a Peter Alliss instruction book out of the library.

He was determined to enter the
Open Championship despite realising quickly that the game is harder than it
looks following some practice in fields near his house. Yet he was still dead set
on it, and after realising that he was unable to enter as an amateur because he
couldn't prove his handicap he simply decided to enter as a pro.

But not only was he nowhere near
professional standard, he couldn't actually play golf at all. His score, a 49-over-par
round of 121, remains the worst in the R&A's record books. What makes the
con more ludicrous is that he turned up with an imitation-leather bag and half
a set of mail-order clubs but still got through unnoticed.

Flitcroft became a sensation, something
no doubt helped along enormously by the R&A's embarrassingly po-faced
reaction to a game old boy who did nothing more than give a lot of people a
good chuckle. Undeterred by his failure, he tried to get into the Open again
innumerable times - each time with false names such as Gerald Hoppy, Gene
Paceky or James Beau Jolley, and often wearing outrageous disguises that generally
involved extravagant false moustaches.

Flitcroft ended up quitting his
job and became an average amateur golfer, usually shooting into the low 90s,
but his notoriety led to several clubs naming tournaments and booby-prizes
after the 'Royal and Ancient Rabbit', as he was nicknamed. Flitcroft died in
2007, aged 87.

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Marathon - Rosie Ruiz

Cuban-American Ruiz infamously
popped up as a surprise winner of the 1980 Boston Marathon.

The only problem with her
achievement? She had not even run the race.

Aged 27, Ruiz 'qualified' for
Boston after being timed as coming 11th in the free-for-all New York Marathon
with a time under three hours. It later transpired that she had not even run
the New York race, having been spotted on the subway during the run, yet somehow
wangling a finish time after reporting to a medical station near the finish.

But in Boston she pushed her
luck, misjudging her fraud as she hopped over the ropes near the end of the
race to win in a world-class time of two hours, 31 minutes and 56 seconds. She even pretended to collapse theatrically as she crossed the line. Nice touch.

But alarm bells immediately rang,
with none of the genuine competitors remembering seeing her, organisers puzzled
at how they missed her at their checkpoints, and a pair of Harvard students reporting
that they actually saw her pop out of the crowd half a mile from the finish.

None of this bothered Rosie: she
cheerfully gave an interview to TV sports reporters (pictured) after the finish, talking
about her 'achievement'.

Her relatively unathletic build
did not go unnoticed either and, after investigation, she was stripped of her
gold medal and disqualified from New York too.

Her story led marathon
organisers to tighten up the way athletes are monitored - they since became
electronically monitored and filmed throughout major races - but she failed to
learn from it, apparently involved in a series scams as she returned to a
career in sales.

She was arrested on at least two
occasions, once for allegedly embezzling $60,000 from a real estate company and
another time for alleged involvement in a drug deal. Last heard of working as
an account exec in Florida, she still maintains she ran both races.

Football - Spencer Trethewy

Young Spencer appeared from
nowhere as a 19-year-old 'property developer' with a loose mouth and even
looser ethical code. In 1990 he saved Aldershot Town FC from bankruptcy after
producing a £200,000 cheque that soon bounced - it turned out that he was
unable to repay the money he had borrowed for the buyout and, four years later,
was jailed for just under a year for running up bills when his company was
suspended from trading.

The difference between Spencer
and others on this list is that it was unclear whether his venture was a
deliberate con or just an almighty cock-up from an inexperienced entrepreneur:
his success since hints that, while living his life in a morally-dubious grey
area, it may well have been the latter.

Having changed his name to
Spencer Day, he is now a multi-millionaire real-estate banker and owner (and
manager) of Chertsey Town FC.

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Athletics - Stanislawa Walasiewicz

Also known as Stella Walsh, the
Polish-American athlete was a sprint specialist and double Olympic medal
winner, taking women's 100m gold in 1932 and silver in 1936, competing for
Poland.

She had a long and illustrious
career, interrupted by World War II, and throughout her life there was no doubt
about her ability - or gender, which is where the story really begins.

'Stella' was tragically killed
in a botched armed robbery in Cleveland, Ohio - she was a bystander, gunned
down at the age of 69. The autopsy revealed a scandal - she possessed male
genitalia, with some evidence of female characteristics, and a combination of
XX and XY chromosomes, a condition that would now define her as 'intersex'.

No action has been taken to
erase records - modern gender testing involves complex psychological and
physiological analysis, not merely a check of the crown jewels - but it was a
benchmark for cases since, including the continued controversy surrounding
South African star Caster Semenya.

Athletics - Eva
Klobukowska

Another Polish sprinter with
Olympic medals, there are two key differences from Walasiewicz: Klobukowska
stayed in her homeland, and actually failed a gender test.

Klobukowska burst on the scene
at the 1964 Olympics when, having just turned 18, she won 100m bronze and relay
gold in Tokyo. A year later she stormed to a world record 100m time of 11.1
seconds, incredibly fast for its time. The following season she cleaned up at
the European Championships but never got a chance to compete at another
Olympics - in 1967 she failed a gender test, showing an extra male chromosome,
and was banned from competing.

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Baseball - Danny Almonte

The curious tale of baseball
prodigy Danny Almonte has parallels with rumours surrounding many football
players from developing countries, whose reported ages are questioned, thus
clouding their achievements in age-restricted tournaments that often lead to
professional careers.

Almonte was supposedly just 12
years old when he came to public notice, standing 5'8" and pitching like a
grown man, and becoming a little league sensation after throwing perfect games
as his Bronx Baby Boomers team made the 2001 Little League World Series. They
won, and were presented with the keys to the city by Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Their opponents were not
impressed, however, hiring a private investigator to look into the young
superstar's age, a lengthy process that sparked several other investigations
both in the US and Almonte's native Dominican Republic. The 12-year-old
actually turned out to be 14, and the Baby Boomers had their achievement
stricken from the record books.

There is a great deal of
evidence pointing to Almonte being innocent in the whole charade: a recent
arrival in the US and unable to speak English, it appears he was exploited by
unscrupulous parents, who knocked a couple of years off his birth-date to sneak
him into the age group. The scandal that followed dragged out for a while
before his native Dominican Republic admitted he was born in 1987, not 1989 as
claimed.

Perhaps the saddest part of the
story is that Almonte was genuinely a talented player - if not a world beater -
and after the scandal became a top college player before carving out a semi-professional
career.

Football - Togo assistant coach Tchanile Bana

2010 was not a good year for
poor Togo. A terrible incident at the African Cup of Nations earlier in the
year saw their team bus sprayed with bullets by Angolan separatists, leading to
the tragic death of three staff members and injuries to several players.

But the scandal in September of
that year was entirely their own doing. Having already been banned for two
years for organising a friendly in Egypt without his FA's knowledge, assistant
coach Tchanile Bana arranged a match in Bahrain.

Not only did he break that
suspension, but when the time came for the game he took a shadow team to the
Gulf state, bearing no resemblance to the squad that briefly appeared at the
CAN, losing 3-0 and ringing alarm bells with its ineptitude. Bana was banned
for another three years and now has no chance of conning anyone in football -
surely?

 

 

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