Every four years the greatest of athletes compete in a certain category during a festival called the summer Olympics. The Paralympics (the Olympics for people with disabilities) also happen every four years, only a couple of weeks after the Olympics. And the year 2000 was no different. This time, both competitions were held in Sydney, Australia, and the Spanish men's intellectual disability team did something that was unthinkable, and left many jaws on the floor.
Doping (the use of prohibited medications) has always been a problem in both the Olympics and the Paralympics, but more of a problem in the latter. To avoid this, Sydney implemented a doping control program (DCP), which worked successfully. Fourteen athletes tested positive for “boosting”, which is a drug used by athletes with spinal injuries. What boosting does is essentially spike up the blood pressure for enhanced human performance. But what would happen if somebody wanted to have a disadvantage on the contrary of an advantage over the other competitors? In other words, what if somebody faked having a disability?
Our story starts with Fernando Martin Vicente, who at the time was the president of the Spanish federation of sportspeople with intellectual disabilities (FEDDI). Money from the government usually goes to sports federations who are known to have a triumphant record, so federations like FEDDI don't get much money to work with, and to solve that, there was a simple solution: win medals. That's why FEDDI thought, what if for one year, we make a team that's practically guaranteed to win? Only problem was, how could they possibly do that?
If medals led to money, FEDDI only needed to win once so that they would get money, and be able to assist people that were actually mentally disabled. To do this, they started the search for their super team. All they needed was some fairly well skilled basketball players and they would have a good team. One would imagine they would only need a couple of players to achieve this right? Well, that's not exactly what FEDDI had in mind. They recruited TEN. This means that out of the 12 players in the roster, only two were actually disabled.
Now, to be able to participate in this sporting category, there is one condition: Having an IQ of 75 or lower. The person who made the video (link at the top) from which I got most of my info from took an IQ test himself, to see how difficult or easy it would be to fake having a low IQ. Austin aimed for 55 as a score, so that he would be under the limit so that he could qualify, but not so low that he would attract unwanted attention. He ended up getting 25. Austin then looked through the reports of some of the players, and found out that some were never even tested, and all of them had forged medical documents that were made by an outside source, of which the players claim not to have known of.
If our story had a main character, it would be Carlos Ribagorda. He was one of the ten recruited “fake” players, who helped Spain win gold. A few weeks after the ceremony however, he gave his medal, team jersey, and 150 pounds given for the Sydney trip back to the paralympic committee. Well, why? Did he want to come clean? Actually, Carlos was an undercover investigative journalist, who helped expose what FEDDI was doing. Details are a bit fuzzy on this part, but apparently, Carlos was called 5 months before the paralympics. Five months of which the team used to train. And according to Carlos: “There were five months of training with not a single disabled person in sight”. Weirdly enough, the only medical test he was asked to do was 6 pushups and a blood pressure
During the first match, Spain was destroying their opponent so badly that by halftime, they were up 30 points. So, the coach asked them to slow down a bit and let the other team score some points. Even with them slowing down, they were still dominating that match, and that kept going on with other teams until the gold medal ceremony. As we all know, once the medals are given out, photographers take pictures of the glorified team, and send them to national newspapers; in this case, Spanish newspapers. It wasn't long before these pictures were posted online, and people filled comment sections saying that they knew some of these people, and they weren't disabled at all. The players were ordered to grow beards, wear caps, and wear sunglasses so that they wouldn't get recognised when they arrived back home. After they landed, our favourite investigator Carlos published one of the weirdest exclusives of all time for magazine ‘Capital’. Two weeks later, Spain was disqualified and ordered to return the gold medals.
In 2013, after almost a decade of investigations, Fernando Martin Vicente was charged for fraud and forgery, and was fined 5,400 euros. That doesn't seem like much, but to be fair, he was also asked to give back the 150,000 he got from sponsorships. The athletes on the other hand, walked away with no charges against them. Just like that, the greatest paralympic scandal was concluded.