Athletes That Exploited Sporting Loopholes

Updated on March 26, 2019
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Purches Power is a competitive, drug-free bodybuilder and a qualified gym instructor with a diploma in Sports Psychology.

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Fair or Unfair Play?

At any level of sport, one advantage can often make the difference between winning and losing. At the highest levels, it can also be the difference between making or losing millions a year through lost prize money and sponsorships. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that athletes are more than willing to bend the rules or exploit a loophole when the opportunity presents itself. Below are five sportsmen who, while not technically breaking the rules, were certainly pushing the boundaries of the rule book and fair play. The examples below were deemed so unfair that they resulted in rule changes in their respective sports.

The Fosbury Flop in action.
The Fosbury Flop in action. | Source

Athletes Who Bend the Rules for Innovations

High Jump Innovations

Some sports innovators have led to a complete change in their chosen sport. One of the most famous is Dick Fosbury. He revolutionized the high jump event with a unique back-first technique. The introduction of the move, now named the Fosbury Flop, led to other athletes adopting the technique and completely changing the sport.

Backstroke Innovations

Others innovations led to rule changes. The technique of swimmers performing a backstroke for nearly the complete length of the pool underwater was immediately outlawed. David Berkoff set a world record at the Summer Olympics in Seoul by staying underwater for 35m off his start. You are much faster underwater in a streamline position than you are on the surface of the water, and Berkoff's technique and subsequent dominance led to a new FINA rule. In 1988, the new rules stated that a swimmer's head must break the surface of the water by 10m in the backstroke. This was extended to 15m in 1991, and remains the limit today.

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Trevor Chappell and Underarm Bowling in Cricket

Australian Trevor Chappell did not cheat, but his actions were deemed so against the spirit of the game of cricket that they caused a uproar.

On February 1, 1981, New Zealand was chasing Australia’s total of 235 in the third final of the 1980-81 World Cup Series. With one over left to bowl, New Zealand required 15 runs to seal a rare victory over their Antipodean neighbours.

The Australian captain, Greg Chappell, called his youngest brother, Trevor, on to bowl. From the first five balls, nine runs were scored and two wickets were taken. This left the new batsman, Brian McKechnie, with only one ball to score a six to win the game. The senior Chappell ordered his brother to bowl the remaining ball underarm, crown-green bowling style along the floor.

The ball rolled to McKechnie's feet, making it impossible for him to score a six and giving Australia the win.

During to the furore that followed which almost caused an international incident, then New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon called it “the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket...an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate the Australian team were wearing yellow.”

Underarm bowling in cricket was rapidly banned.

Angelo Dundee
Angelo Dundee | Source

Angelo Dundee's Rule Bending and Loophole Exploitation

Legendary boxing trainer Angelo Dundee didn’t exploit a loophole, he just plain cheated. He will be remembered in England for his role in Muhammad Ali's first defeat of British heavyweight icon Henry Cooper at Wembley in 1963.

During the non-title fight, Cooper knocked down Ali, who was still using his birth name of Cassius Clay. At the end of the fourth round, Cooper flattened Clay with his trademark left hook, known as "Enry’s 'Ammer." Ali later said that the punch was so hard “that his ancestors in Africa felt it."

Ali was saved first by the bell and then by his cornerman Dundee, who breached the first of many rules by helping his fighter to the corner. Once in the corner, Dundee immediately tried to talk Ali around and then slapped his fighter's legs. After a still-dazed Clay misunderstood and tried to get off the stool, Dundee illegally used smelling salts to help his fighter regain his senses (British rules did not allow any stimulants but water).

Dundee noticed a small split had opened in one of Ali’s gloves; he tore it wider to make the damage worse. After bringing the damaged glove to the referee’s attention, Dundee was told that a substitute glove wasn’t available. The search for a new pair of gloves provided a delay and helped Ali recover.

Ali then went out in the very next round and beat Cooper on a cuts stoppage.

Since this controversial night, a spare pair of boxing gloves are now kept at ringside during boxing matches.

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Lester Hayes' Use of Stickum

Lester Hayes played in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders from 1977 to 1986. He is considered one of the best shutdown corners to have played the game. He still (at the time of writing) holds the team record for career interceptions with 39 in total, with 13 coming in a single season (also a record).

His success was thanks in no small part to his heavy use of an adhesive called Stickum, which he practically smothered himself in.

Hayes, being covered in what was practically industrial-strength glue, made sure that any time a football or the oppositions offensive players came anywhere near him, they would stick to him like fly paper. This made the football very easy to steal and his opponents easier to hold onto. His record amount of interceptions in 1980 forced the NFL to finally ban the use of any adhesives during official play with a rule named after Hayes in 1981.

Thanks to Hayes, the NFL actually had to make a rule to stop players from covering themselves in glue before every game.

Ice Hockey Fight.
Ice Hockey Fight. | Source

The Rob Ray Rule

Canadian ice hockey player Rob Ray was a stereotypical brawler. In a sport where a fist fight is considered part of the game, Ray stands out as evidenced by his staggering 3,200 career minutes spent in the penalty box. His rule bending wasn’t intended to give his team a competitive edge, it was done just so he could beat up players more effectively.

Ray loved to scrap and to help in his hunt of a dust up, he intentionally wore loose-fitting pads and clothing. When the inevitable sanctioned brawl broke out, he was able to shed his already loose clothing and pads quickly, giving him the upper hand over his much bulkier, armoured opponents. Their slow and restricted movements gave him the edge and ensured that he kicked their ass before they had a chance to effectively fire back.

His semi-clad brawling became such an issue to the National Hockey League that they brought in a new rule that stated that "a player who engages in fisticuffs and whose sweater is not properly 'tied-down' (jersey properly fastened to pants), and who loses his sweater (completely off his torso) in that altercation, shall receive a game misconduct.”

Fans and pundits were quick to name this the Rob Ray Rule.

The rule did nothing to stop Ray. His fighting continued long into his career. His brawling persona was commercially exploited when he appeared in a TV commercial where he acted as a security guard at a TV station. He beats up a courier after he says he can't show his ID.

Steve Watson's Innovative Somersault Throw-In Technique

Steve Watson was a footballer (soccer) who spent most of his career playing for Newcastle United in the north of England. It was during his best years in the 1990s that he introduced a technique to improve the throw-in of the football.

The throw-in is little more than a pass back into the field of play, much like throw-ins in basketball. Except it is the only time a football player outside of the goal keeper can handle the ball. Football rules state that a player must always use both hands to throw in the ball and have both feet on the ground at the point of release.

A then sixteen-year-old Watson, however, wanted to turn the throw-in into a legitimate offensive weapon that wasn't outside of the law but wasn't exactly in the spirit of fair play. In a sport where diving on the ground, shirt-pulling, and professional fouls are rife, the spirit of fair play is frequently tested.

In the early 1990s, Watson first demonstrated what would become his specialty, the Somersault Throw-In. In the last game of the 1990-91 season against Hull City, he ran up to the side line and performed a forward somersault with the football still between his hands whilst still supporting all of his weight. He then launched it from behind his head as soon as his feet contacted the ground.

This incredible and, to be honest, great to watch movement gave the ball far more power, range, and momentum than a stationary throw-in. It allowed Watson to bypass defenders and position the ball very close to the oppositions goal, giving the ball similar range to a corner kick or other set piece.

Watson used it again some months later in a game against Middlesborough. However, it was subsequently banned by FIFA, who stated that it was not within the rules.

However, several other players, including goalkeepers clearing their goal area, have since performed the technique in various other leagues where it still remains legal.

Would you exploit a sports loophole to win?

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