​Sporting scams: Who’s fooling who?

The recipe for a good sporting hoax requires equal parts chutzpah and desperation, best if blended with a dollop or two of luck. Sporting hoaxers tend to be one-event scammers (athletes who don’t start a race but somehow manage to complete it), so the story of Carlos Henrique Raposo is deeply instructive. Indeed, Raposo might legitimately claim to be the king — one might even say the Sepp Blatter — of sporting hoaxers. He is the numero uno of this particular league of undistinguished gentlemen.

Better known as Carlos Kaiser, Raposo was a Brazilian footballer with a love of the game his talent was unable to match. Although superbly fit, according to a recent article in the Atlas Obscura newsletter, and possessing a smidgeon of talent, Kaiser tended not to stay very long at the Brazilian clubs he hoodwinked.

His spiel went something like this: after befriending stars like Romario and asking them to recommend him to managers and coaches, he would accept short-term contracts but feign injury at crucial times, somehow managing never to complete a full training session, let alone a proper game.

He started off at a club called Puebla in the early 1970s, staying one step ahead of his reputation by moving on when the suspicion that he was a con man in shorts became too great.

These were pre-television days, when club scouts didn’t have impressive databases and online tracking tools. By being chummy with the right people, Kaiser was able to blend in, sort of like the Zelig character in Woody Allen’s film of the same name. Should he need to leave town in a hurry, he did so — there was always another star to befriend, always another club desperate for what he argued persuasively were his growing talents.

Key in Kaiser’s bag of tricks was — wait for it — a toy cellphone. In Portuguese-speaking Brazil he was often seen by colleagues and management staff to be speaking into it in a language that resembled English — no one seemed entirely sure. Kaiser’s “conversations” gave the impression he was much sought-after as a footballer abroad, the phone itself (these were rare items in Brazil in the 1970s and early 1980s) lending him a cachet he never actually possessed.

He would also befriend journalists, encouraging them to write flattering stories about him in exchange for tickets and team shirts. In what must qualify as a salutary lesson for the Brazilian sporting press in general, he miraculously developed a reputation midway through his career as an impressive goal scorer, despite never having scored a goal.

Amazingly, he was able to outwit club owners, fans and the sporting press for 20 years, telling the Brazilian newspaper Globo in 2011: “I do not regret anything. Clubs already deceive so many players, someone had to be the avenger.”

When compared to “the avenger”, Rosie Ruiz’s hoax was simply cheeky, although there was more than a dollop of desperation in her scam. The daughter of a Cuban immigrant to the United States who developed a brain tumour at a young age, Ruiz had a lust for the limelight.

The 1980 Boston Marathon was expected to be won in the women’s category by Canadian runner Jacqueline Gareau, but shortly before the finish line Ruiz sneaked in from the crowd lining the course, and started to run for home.

Bill Rodgers, winner of the men’s race, asked her what her splits were when she finished first in the women’s category, looking fresh and not particularly worse for wear. Ruiz seemed bemused and looked at him blankly. Rodgers believes that, although Ruiz expected to finish, she didn’t necessarily expect to win.

She had, in effect, fallen foul of what plagues many an athlete: the mistimed sprint to the finish. “Just looking at her and talking to her, she was overwhelmed,” Rodgers told the Eagle-Tribune, a Massachusetts daily, on the 20th anniversary of the 1980 race. “She wasn’t someone who planned to win.”

Ruiz had pulled a similar stunt to qualify for Boston, supposedly finishing 11th in the New York Marathon a month or so before. In fact, Ruiz had “run” much of the course by travelling on a New York subway, an inconvenient fact that came to light when people became suspicious of her Boston win.

Nowadays, Ruiz lives in south Florida. She does not appear to believe she has avenged any system, preferring to retain a low-profile lifestyle, despite being convicted some years ago for selling cocaine. She has never formally admitted to cheating in either the New York or Boston marathons.

This is unlike the Free State twins, Sergio and Fika Motsoeneng, who jointly ran the 1999 Comrades marathon, Sergio starting before swapping kit in a mobile toilet with Fika before they changed again so he could finish the race. The twins were only exposed because an enterprising journalist noticed that, although the brothers had swapped their kit, preserving a single race number (13108), photos showed them wearing watches on different wrists.

As a result, Sergio was disqualified from the event in which he — and Fika, of course — had finished ninth.

After his and Fika’s banning, Sergio returned to the 2010 race, finishing third. Afterwards he was dope-tested and failed, his blood containing an unnamed “banned substance”.

Although Kaiser deserves a medal for sheer bloody-minded longevity, and Ruiz one for a sort of tragic desperation, the so-called “Antalya fixes” were a hoax on an entirely different plane. Here were two international football matches created for the sole purpose of betting. They took place in the drab obscurity of central Turkey and involved such legends of the beautiful game as Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia and Bolivia.

The double-header featured seven goals, all of them from the penalty spot.

Clinging to a shred of hope that all was legit, the Daily Mail in Britain pointed out chirpily at the time that at least the four competing sides were their respective nations’ bona fide first XIs. Unlike, say, the game in 2009, the paper said, in which a so-called international friendly between Togo and Bahrain was made up of two entirely fake national teams.

Eat your heart out, Carlos Kaiser.

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