Bribery in Abundance: From Ancient Olympics to Present Rio 2016 Games

the boxer
The Boxer of Quirinal, Hellenistic period late 4th–2nd century BC

It seems that there is a constant in the Olympics that has survived the test of time over the past 2,000 years. From ancient times to the modern games, bribery has played a consistent role in the games.

It’s All About the Money

There is evidence that has been documented spanning some 2,000 years when, for example, in 388 B.C. the traveling writer Pausanias wrote of the boxer Eupolus and how he bribed his three opponents at Olympia during the games to essentially throw in the towel to let Eupolus claim victory. Although all four contestants were punished by officials, it didn’t detract a pentathlete named Calliopes, who 66 years later thought to offer his competitors money to throw the competition as well.

Most likely, the fact that punishment was usually a monetary fine and the athletes still got to keep the medals didn’t help deter athletes from attempting to bribe their way to victory.

Another punishment was that some wrongdoers would find a bronze statue of themselves in a type of “Hall of Shame,” as ancient officials would use the money paid in punishment fines to commission statues called Zanes, to publicly humiliate the offenders. The bases of the statues can still be seen today and are called the Zanes of Olympia.

zanes of olympia
Zanes of Olympia

As recent as 1999, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released a confidential report where it admitted that “bribery within the Olympic movement goes back decades.”

Recently bribery has been exposed heading towards the 2016 Rio Olympics, as earlier this year a Russian track and field athlete tried bribing a doping control officer after being caught trying to tamper with his own urine sample.

Also, one of the most exposed and blatantly obvious bribery scandals took place in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics when a French judge admitted to being “pressured” into voting higher marks for Russian skaters in exchange for securing an “advantage” for France in the pairs ice dancing competition. The problem with this scheme was that anyone watching on television or in the crowd could tell that something was fishy, leading to investigations and admittance of the French judge.

Buying Citizenship

Another parallel to the games nowadays that existed in ancient times is that athletes would pay money or resort to bribery and extortion in order to represent other cities than their own.

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Olympic village: Leonidaion at Olympia, 350 BC

Of course, this is still seen today as some athletes try to gain citizenship to other countries in order to enhance their chances of being allowing to participate in the games or even to help them win.

The Daily Telegraph reported that during the 2012 Olympics that 11 percent of the athletes representing the UK were in fact born abroad and were dubbed “plastic Brits.”

Also at Sochi 2014, this tradition continues as countries continued to swap citizenship for athletes such as Thailand having a Singaporean competing for the country, while an American-Italian couple found a spot on team Dominica and a German on the Mexican team.