Nonprofit Exec Who Recruited Athletes With Bogus Disabilities For Paralympics Gets Slap On Wrist

Thirteen years after one of the most disgraceful sports scandals broke, a nonprofit executive has been found guilty of fraud and slapped with a minor fine.

Back in 2000, Fernando Martín Vicente –- former president of the Spanish Federation for Mentally Handicapped Sports –- recruited a team of basketball players to compete in the Sydney Paralympics that went on to take home the gold. But the reason why his team was able to coast to first place had nothing to do with the stellar coaching. Of the 12 members, only two actually had disabilities, according to the Local.

Team members were required to have IQs of less than 70 –- which two players did –- and the rest just brought fake documents with them.

On Monday, Vicente, who has a son with disabilities, was found guilty of fraud and forgery and was fined 5,400 euros ($7,300). He was also told return the 150,000 euros ($200,000) he received form sponsorships. The 10 players with bogus disabilities got off scot-free.

spain paralympics basketball

Though it took more than a decade for justice to be served, the country’s cheating ways emerged immediately after the Games.

When Carlos Ribagorda, a Spanish journalist, learned of the foul play going on in adaptive sports, he decided to go undercover and join the Paralympic basketball team. He then wrote an expose in Capital, a finance magazine, revealing how the team scammed the system.

“Of the 200 Spanish athletes at Sydney at least 15 had no type of physical or mental handicap -- they didn’t even pass medical or psychological examinations,” he wrote, according to Agence France-Presse.

Ribagorda barely underwent any testing himself. He simply had to do six press-ups at his first training session and his blood pressure was taken afterwards, according to the news outlet.

That year was also Spain’s most successful Paralympic run. The country took home 107 medals and finished third behind Australia and Great Britain, the BBC reported.

According to Ribagorda, athletes competing in table tennis, track and field, and swimming events didn't have physical or intellectual disabilities, Sports Illustrated reported in 2000.

After the scandal initially broke, the basketball team was ordered to return its gold medals and Vincente resigned from the Spanish Federation for Mentally Handicapped Sports and the Spanish Paralympic Committee, where he served as vice president, according to the BBC.

After the Capital article was published, Vincente took “full responsibility” for his actions, but also noted that evaluating people with intellectual disabilities is difficult.

“If someone wants to cheat, it’s difficult to detect,” he said when he resigned, according to the Agence France-Presse. It’s easy to pretend you have little intelligence but the opposite is difficult.”



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