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Sports scandals leave cloud over memorable 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 - 06:46

[SINGAPORE] A year that was supposed to showcase the virtues of modern sport was instead smeared by a series of scandals that exposed the ugly underbelly of the games people love.

On the fields of play, the action in 2014 was at times breathtaking.

A German team, unshackled from its pragmatic past and playing with uninhibited flair, won a World Cup in Brazil that exceeded everyone's wildest expectations.

Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the final at the sprawling Maracana in Rio de Janeiro thanks to a superb extra-time goal from baby-faced substitute Mario Goetze to lift the trophy for the first time since 1990.

The hosts buckled under the weight of expectation, finishing fourth, but never had the samba nation shone so brightly on the world stage.

Magnanimous in defeat, Brazil delivered a tournament that will be remembered for its contagious carnival atmosphere, infecting everyone from the golden sands of Copacabana Beach to the Amazon rainforest.

But the year did not end well for the beautiful game with FIFA, soccer's world governing body, fending of more accusations of bribery over its decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 to Qatar.

FIFA cleared both of any of wrongdoing but the former US prosecutor who led the investigation said it had misrepresented his findings and he later quit.

The timing of the 2022 World Cup is also causing problems with doctors warning the tournament will have to be moved from its usual summer slot to avoid the stifling heat in Qatar.

But any change could impact on the European leagues and potentially clash with the 2022 Winter Olympics, in either Beijing or Almaty, the only two cities in the bidding race.

The rest all dropped out, citing the astronomical US$51 billion price tag for this year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, and prompting the International Olympic Committee to introduce a raft of reforms.

Like Brazil's World Cup, Russia's Olympics went better than expected despite the inevitable collision between sport and politics. The buildup was overshadowed by threats of Islamist militant violence, an international outcry over a contentious "anti-gay propaganda" law and allegations of corruption.

Western critics labelled the Games a wasteful extravagance to show off modern Russia's might. President Vladimir Putin said the complaints were fuelled by jealousy and reminiscent of the Cold War rhetoric that dominated Olympics in the 70s and 80s.

Russia's Adelina Sotnikova won the women's figure skating ahead of South Korea's Kim Yuna, triggering complaints about the judging in the most-watched event of the Games.

In short-track speed-skating, Viktor Ahn won three gold medals for his adopted Russia - heaping yet more agony on his native South Koreans.

Ahn won three golds for South Korea in 2006 but swapped nations after he was not selected for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Forty-year-old Ole Einar Bjoerndalen beat the odds to set a record of 13 Winter Games medals by winning the biathlon sprint and the mixed relay while Dutch speed skater Irene Wust won five medals, matching the record at a single Winter Olympics.

Russia finished top of the medals table with 13 golds but the country's recent surge in sport was questioned later in the year with allegations of systemic doping by Russian athletes.

Racism, doping and domestic violence dominated the American sporting landscape in 2014.

Donald Sterling, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, was banned for life and eventually agreed to sell the franchise after a racist rant that overshadowed the San Antonio Spurs' victory over the Miami Heat in the championship final.

Alex Rodriguez, baseball's highest-paid player, missed the entire MLB season after ending a legal challenge to his record suspension for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs.

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the third time in five seasons, with ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner playing the starring role.

The NFL, America's richest and most watched sport, played its first Super Bowl in the New York area - with the Seattle Seahawks beating the Denver Bronocs.

But the sport was plunged into crisis when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on film punching his wife and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson used a tree branch to discipline his son.

The genteel sport of cricket was left heartbroken after the shock death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes - who was killed when he was hit in the head by a ball.

His death triggered a global outpouring of grief not seen since Formula One driver Ayrton Senna was killed in a high-speed crash 20 years ago.

Britain's Lewis Hamilton, who grew up idolising Senna, won his second F1 driver's title while Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy won the British Open and PGA championships titles.

Serena Williams showed why she remains the queen of women's tennis, winning her sixth US Open and finishing the year as the world's oldest number one, aged 33.

The men's game saw some new names in the grand slam winners' enclosure with Stan Wawrinka winning in Australia and Marin Cilic taking the US Open. REUTERS