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Top 22 controversies that rocked the world of sports in 2021

As we try to end the year on a good note, here we look at 22 major sports controversies that rocked India and the world:

Top 22 controversies that rocked the world of sports in 2021
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The Bridge Desk

Updated: 2021-12-18T14:27:19+05:30

The year has come to its fag end with just 20 days remaining in the calendar. The year saw a slow recovery of sports in the Covid-era and hosted some of the biggest events in the world, including the greatest show on earth - The Olympics - along with the UEFA Euro Cup, Copa America, ICC T20 World Cup, World Test Championships Finals, IAAF Junior World Championships, among others.

While the year was enthralling for sports fans, it had its share of controversies as well that led to discussions that went beyond the realm of sports. As we try to end the year on a good note, here we look at 21 major sports controversies that rocked India and the world:

1. Naomi Osaka's refusal to attend press conferences

On May 26, 2021, four days before the start of the French Open, 23-year-old tennis player Naomi Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam winner, announced via Twitter that she would not be talking to the press at the tournament. "I've often felt that people have no regard for athletes' mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one," she wrote. "If the organizations think they can just keep saying, 'do press or you're going to be fined,' and continue to ignore the mental health of athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh." she added.

The French Open organisers, who were worried in part that she might set a precedent, fined her for not speaking to the media in a post-match press conference after the first round. Other tournaments threatened similar punishments. Osaka was facing further fines and possible expulsion from the tournament if she continued to refuse to attend media events. Owing to the pressure, Osaka stepped aside from the tournament.

2. Djokovic's demands at Australian Open

Right before the Australian Open in 2021, World no.1 tennis player Novak Djokovic reportedly wrote to the CEO of Australian Open Craig Tiley calling for major changes. He asked for fitness and training materials be made available to all players being forced to quarantine in hotel rooms.

He also wanted to see the number of days players have to isolate for to be reduced from 14 with regular testing made available. The Serbian wanted guarantees of good quality food available to those in quarantine as well as permission for them to visit with their coach or physical trainer, as long as they'd both tested negative. And his final request was for players to be moved to private houses with access to tennis courts. The COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria Commissioner Emma Cassar slammed the door shut on Djokovic saying that there would be no changes to the conditions that players are dealing with.

3. Tim Paine stepping down as Australia cricket team captain

Just 19 days before the start of Australia vs England The Ashes series, Tim Paine stepped down as the captain of the Australian cricket team, after explicit messages (sexting) between himself and a former colleague at Cricket Tasmania in 2017 were made public. Paine announced his decision to quit during a tearful press conference at Hobart in which the married father of two admitted his behaviour did not meet the standard of an Australian cricket captain.

Tim Paine (Source: AFP)

4. Peng Shuai's disappearance

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai went missing for 18 days after accusing former Chinese Communist party leader Zhang Gaoili of sexual assault. The allegations and her subsequent disappearance caused the tennis community and multiple prominent international organisations to jump to her defense. The former French Open and Wimbledon doubles champion claimed retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli forced her into sex three years ago in a now-deleted online post on Weibo.


The WTA actively pressured China into confirming Peng's safety and investigating her allegations, and on December 1 suspended all tournaments in the country. The White House, United Nations and European Union also came to Peng's defense, calling for investigations into her allegations and disappearance.

5. Calls to boycott 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

For months, human rights groups and several Western countries have urged other countries to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing over the Chinese government's rights abuses. The USA became the first major power to impose a diplomatic boycott, announcing two months before the games that it will not send any officials to Beijing. Other countries, including some in the European Union (EU), could follow suit.

China is facing intense criticism for its human rights record. Several countries, including the United States, have accused China of committing genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, allegations that China denies. Rights groups have also called attention to Beijing's repression in Tibet and its crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong.

6. Michael Vaughan dropped from BBC panel

Former England cricket team captain Michael Vaughan was dropped from BBC over the racism controversy that has rocked the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. The England and Wales Cricket Board condemned the handling of the serious allegations made by former player Azeem Rafiq in September 2020.

Rafiq had said last year he was made to feel like an outsider at Yorkshire and contemplated taking his own life. He even filed a legal complaint claiming to have suffered direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race. In a shocking turn of events, one of the most popular England players and ex-captain Michael Vaughan was drawn into the row. He was accused of telling a group of Asian players, including Rafiq, in 2009 that "too many of you lot, we need to do something about it".

7. Laurel Hubbard's Olympics participation

There were a lot of controversies surrounding the participation of weightlifter Laurel Hubbard at the Tokyo Olympics. A lot of it had started before the Games began. The first transgender athlete at the Olympics, Hubbard was accused of having an unfair advantage by her fellow competitors.

Laurel Hubbard (Source: Getty)

If all of this was not enough, the three weightlifters who finished on the podium in her weight category refused to comment about Laurel Hubbard's participation in a post-event media interaction.

8. Iran women's football team playing a male goalkeeper

Iran was accused of playing a man as a goalkeeper for their women's national team against fierce rivals Jordan who have demanded a 'gender verification' probe. Zohreh Koudaei, 32, saved two penalties during the 4-2 shoot-out victory over Jordan in Uzbekistan on September 25, meaning the Iranian women's team qualified for its first-ever Women's Asia Cup. The President of Jordan's FA, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, tweeted a letter 'requesting a gender verification check' on Koudaei from the Asian Football Federation (AFC).

9. Quinton De Kock refusing to take a knee

Quinton de Kock withdrew from South Africa's Twenty20 World Cup match against the West Indies after refusing to take the knee. The 28-year-old's shock decision came just hours after Cricket South Africa (CSA) had ordered all players at the tournament to take part in the anti-racism gesture. He, however, apologised to his teammates and explained that he was irked by the way the instruction was given by CSA without a proper explanation.

10. Simon Biles' mental health priorities

American gymnastics superstar, Simone Biles, withdrew from the Olympic all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being. The decision came a day after Biles removed herself from the team final at the Tokyo Games because she felt she wasn't mentally ready. She not to compete in the Team USA Gymnastics group final and withdrew from the individual all around event that would have allowed her to defend her 2016 Olympic title.

11. Sindhu-Gopichand social media controversy

In October 2020, ace shuttler PV Sindhu went to London to prepare for the Badminton World Federation (BWF) tournaments which were scheduled to take place in 2021. When Sindhu had announced that she was in England for a few weeks for recovery and assistance in nutrition, it whipped up a controversy on social media.

Some media reports had suggested the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallist quit the then ongoing camp in Hyderabad and flew to London due to a rift with chief national coach Pullela Gopichand and tension with her family.



PV Ramana, father of PV Sindhu, had told the media that she had left because she didn't get proper attention in Hyderabad. "After the 2018 Asian Games, Gopi didn't take interest in her training. He didn't provide a proper practice partner to train with her," he had said. Soon after Ramana's comments, Sindhu denied the rift between her family and coach Gopichand.

She cleared the air through an Instagram post, where she wrote, "I came to London a few days back to work on my nutrition and recovery needs with GSSI. In fact, I have come here with the consent of my parents and absolutely they were no family rifts in this regard. Why will I have problems/issues with my parents who have sacrificed their lives for my sake, Mine is a very close-knitted family and they will always support me. I am in touch with my family members every day. Also, I do not have any issues with my coach Mr. Gopichand or the training facilities at the academy."

12. Mohammed Shami attacked on social media

A torrent of social media abuse was aimed at the only Muslim player in that Indian team, bowler Mohammed Shami, after his side were beaten by arch rivals Pakistan at the cricket T20 World Cup. Violence against Muslims in India was also reported after the emphatic 10-wicket win on Sunday, Pakistan's first against India at any World Cup.

The 31-year-old Shami became the main target after the defeat in Dubai, even though India captain Virat Kohli acknowledged that his side had been "outplayed". Hundreds of messages were left on Shami's Instagram account saying he was a "traitor" and should be thrown out of the Indian team.

13. Neeraj Chopra-Arshad Nadeem javelin row

Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra put to rest an 'unnecessary' controversy that had cropped up after his recent interview to Times of India. The star javelin thrower released a video, appealing to people not to "further vested interests and propaganda" after his comments regarding Pakistani javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem "moving around" with his javelin during the final of the Tokyo Games were blown out of proportion on social media.

In an interaction with TOI's sports team on August 24, Neeraj revealed he wasn't able to locate his javelin before his first throw. "I was searching for my javelin. Suddenly, I saw Arshad Nadeem moving around with my javelin. I told him, 'Bhai give this javelin to me, it is my javelin!' He gave it back to me. That's why you must have seen I took my first throw hurriedly," Neeraj had said.

A day later, rumour-mongers gave a different spin. They questioned the Pakistani player's intentions with some platforms bringing out reports that Nadeem was trying to "tamper" with Neeraj's javelin.

14. Manika Batra brought match-fixing allegations against coach

Manika Batra had a brilliant Olympic outing where she reached Round 3 of the table tennis event before going down to Austria's Sofia Polcanova 8-11,2-11,5-11,7-11. Batra's campaign was overshadowed by controversy following her refusal to take the help of the national coach Soumyadeep Roy during her matches.

Manika had earlier requested India's chef-de-mission to allow field of play (FOP) access for her personal coach Sanmay Paranjape but was denied. Batra's personal coach was controversially cleared to travel with her to Tokyo but was not allowed to stay at the Games Village with the national team. Batra later brought match-fixing allegations against national coach Roy.

15. Who is Pranati Nayak's 'real' coach?

India's lone gymnast at Tokyo Olympics Pranati Nayak's childhood coach Minara Begum had questioned the intent of her ward for not performing a second vault, which threw her out of the final race in the artistic gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics.

Minara fumed at the 26-year-old Bengal gymnast after she scored 13.466 in vault with a difficulty of 5.000 and execution of 8.466 to finish at the bottom-half. The coach had earlier cried foul at the selection of an inexperienced Laxman Manohar Sharma to accompany India's lone gymnast Pranati at the Tokyo Olympics.

16. IOA elections

The Indian Olympic Association's (IOA) elections, originally slated for December 19, is set to be postponed again after the Delhi High Court decided to maintain status quo on the elections until the next hearing.

The IOA is divided into two factions -- one with its president Narinder Batra and the other with secretary-general Rajeev Mehta. Interestingly, one particular point of interest to some of the members in the Mehta camp has been the argument on the restrictive clause that bars members who were not part of the previous five Executive Councils to contest for the posts of president and secretary.

17. Jailed Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar

Two-time Olympic medal-winning wrestler Sushil Kumar, who was nabbed by the Delhi Police on May 23 now languishes in Tihar jail. He has been charged for murder, culpable homicide, and kidnapping of wrestler Sagar Dhankar.


According to the police, Kumar is the "main culprit and mastermind" of the murder and that that there were electronic evidences of him and his associates assaulting Dhankar and two of his friends, with hockey sticks, baseball bats and other blunt weapons over an alleged property dispute. Dhankar eventually succumbed to his injuries while undergoing treatment.

18. Neeraj Chopra's coach sacked

Uwe Hohn, the German great javelin thrower, who was hired in 2017 to coach Neeraj Chopra, was sacked by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI). Hohn was Chopra's coach when he won gold medals at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games in 2018, and remained in charge as the national javelin coach for the Tokyo Olympics.

In June, Hohn had said regarding Sports Authority of India (SAI) and AFI, "it was difficult to work with these people" and had criticised Olympic preparations.

19. Vinesh Phogat suspended

The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) temporarily suspended star wrestler Vinesh Phogat for indiscipline during her Tokyo Olympics campaign. The federation had issued a notice to Vinesh on three counts. Vinesh, who crashed out of the Olympics after losing to Belarus' Vanesa Kaladzinskaya, did not stay at the Olympics village, refused to wear a wrestling singlet with the team sponsor's logo and competed in a singlet with a personal sponsor Nike's logo.

Before the start of her Olympics campaign, Vinesh had expressed displeasure at not being allowed a physiotherapist to accompany her and other athletes to the Games. "Is it a crime to ask for one Physiotherapist for four women wrestlers when there are instances of one athlete having multiple coaches/ Staff?" Vinesh had tweeted. Vinesh also had "created a ruckus" in Tokyo when she was was allotted a room near the rooms of her India teammates Sonam Malik, Anshu Malik and Seema Bisla, said news agency PTI.

20. Manu Bhaker and Jaspal Rana saga

One incident which probably no Indian sports would want to recollect from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics definitely has to be Manu Bhaker's performance. Firstly she and her coach were accused by gun manufacturer Morini for not approaching them when her gun malfunctioned in the women's 10m air pistol qualification. Then she was found in the midst of an ugly war of words with former coach Jaspal Rana.

21. Sania - Bopanna's Olympic possibilities

A few days before the beginning of the Tokyo Olympics, a massive selection controversy rocked Indian tennis. Indian tennis player Rohan Bopanna slammed the Indian tennis association (AITA) claiming that the tennis body had misled him and the entire nation over his Tokyo Olympics qualification. Bopanna launched a direct attack at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for not accepting any entry request for him and Sumit Nagal, who qualified for the men's singles event at the Tokyo Olympics after a series of withdrawals.

Bopanna expressed disappointment over the lack of clarity for ITF's qualification rules and slammed the AITA. He tweeted, "ITF has never accepted an entry for Sumit Nagal & myself. ITF was clear that no changes were allowed after the nomination deadline (June 22) unless Injury/Illness. AITA has misled the players, government, media and everyone else by stating we still have a chance."

In response, Sania Mirza expressed her sheer disbelief in a tweet. As a result of Bopanna not receiving a Tokyo Olympics berth, India lost a 'genuine shot' at winning a medal in the mixed doubles event as Sania and Bopanna were going to team together, her tweet said.

22. Virat Kohli and Sourav Ganguly saga

Undoubtedly, the biggest controversy of the year unfolded in December. The "tussle" between Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Sourav Ganguly and former ODI captain Virat Kohli has also created a buzz on Twitter.After the announcement of Kohli's removal as ODI captain, he made some "revelations". During a press conference on Wednesday, Kohli refuted Ganguly's claim that Kohli was consulted before the captaincy decision was made by the board. He even denied that Ganguly had requested Kohli to continue as T20I captain. Ganguly later avoided questions on the matter and said, "I have got nothing to say. We will deal with it, leave it to the BCCI."Netizens reacted strongly after that. While one section of Twitter users took the side of former India skipper Sourav Ganguly, another showered support for Virat Kohli. The numerous tweets led to the hashtags #WorldStandsWithKohli and #NationStandsWithDada trending on Twitter.


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