Case against paralympian fraudsters dropped as man behind scam is fined

Members of Spanish basketball team had to return Sydney gold medals as they did not have disabilites they claimed

During the Games, suspicions was aroused as basketball players back in Spain recognised some of those playing on television as having no disability. Photograph:  Jamie Squire/Getty Images

During the Games, suspicions was aroused as basketball players back in Spain recognised some of those playing on television as having no disability. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Tue, Oct 8, 2013, 01:10

It is known as the worst ever case of cheating at a Paralympic Games. It led to 10 out of 12 members of a Spanish paralympic basketball team having to hand back the gold medals they won in Sydney in 2000 because they did not have the intellectual disabilities they claimed.

The scam brought shame on Spanish paralympic sport and even saw a shake-up of how mentally impaired athletes qualify for paralympic events around the world. Yesterday, the affair finally came to a close as the mastermind behind the hoax, former president of the Spanish Federation of Sports for the Intellectually Disabled, Fernando Martín Vicente, was fined €5,400.

Martín Vicente’s willingness to take responsibility for the deceit and declare himself guilty of fraud and embezzlement meant that charges against the other 18 defendants were dropped. It also meant the court case, which was scheduled to last throughout this week, started and finished yesterday.

There was widespread criticism of the sentence on social networks and in media comment sections, with many Spaniards seeing it as far too lenient.

Martín Vicente had previously been ordered to pay back €142,000 in subsidies his federation had received to finance the bogus basketball team.


No mental disability
The false paralympians were originally uncovered by journalist Carlos Ribagorda, who infiltrated the team for two years leading up to the 2000 Games. He soon realised most of his teammates, like him, had no mental disability and other than being asked to do a few press-ups and then have his blood pressure taken, he was not checked for any impairment.

During the Games, suspicions was aroused as basketball players back in Spain recognised some of those playing on television as having no disability. In response, the coach of the Spanish team instructed his players to wear hats and sunglasses and slip through the arrivals gate unnoticed at Madrid airport on their return home. In a particularly one-sided game, he had also ordered his players to give the other team more of a chance.

A few weeks after the team beat Russia in the final in Sydney, Mr Ribagorda exposed the scam in an article in the magazine Capital. The magazine’s then-editor, Carlos Salas, described it as “one of the most unpleasant exclusives I have ever published in my life.”

The scandal saw events for intellectually disabled athletes removed from the Paralympics until London 2012, when a new method of measuring impairment was introduced.