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The 23 biggest sporting controversies of 2023: Feuds, drama, cheating claims and dirty tricks - this year had it all

20th December, 2023
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20th December, 2023
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With the end of the calendar year nearly upon us, The Roar is looking back at the sporting highlights, lowlights and moments that mattered for 2023 in Australia and beyond. 

After intense debate at Roar HQ, we’ve arrived upon the 23 most controversial moments for 2023. 

There were plenty of flashpoints on the sporting arena and many more away from it which provided just as much grist for the mill.

Which were the ones that will live long in the memory and what did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.

1 Jonny Bairstow: A legitimate dismissal shouldn’t cause so much drama but Alex Carey’s stumping of the England batter will be remembered as one of the most controversial moments in Test cricket history. England squealed like a stuck pig and tried to claim the moral high ground, levelling all sorts of vitriol at Carey and captain Pat Cummins. 

If they need a reminder, Bairstow was out, they lost the Test, the MCC members acted like clowns and Australia still hold the Ashes. 

Jonny Bairstow looks frustrated after being run out by Alex Carey.

Jonny Bairstow looks frustrated after being dismissed by Alex Carey. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

2 Eddie Jones: It was non-stop drama from the moment Rugby Australia punted Dave Rennie at the start of the year and brought Jones back to coach the Wallabies again after England had given him the flick. The losses piled up, the World Cup was a catastrophe and Jones lied his way out the door four years early to take up a lucrative offer in Japan. A total farce. 

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3 AFL goalpost farce: Adelaide needed to beat Sydney to make the finals but a decision by the goal umpire to rule a behind instead of a six-pointer to Ben Keays virtually ended the Crows’ season. AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan admitted the goal umpire had made a “mistake” but said the result of the match would stand. The goal umpire was stood down for the remainder of the season.

4 Bulldogs wrestling drama: Canterbury’s woeful NRL campaign reached a low point late in the season when a player refused to return to training after being subjected to a brutal punishment of being forced to wrestle his teammates one after the other. The player in question didn’t turn out for them again and coach Cameron Ciraldo had to defend the club’s culture on the back of yet another losing season. 

5 World Cup kiss without consent on podium: Spain’s triumph in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final was tarnished by Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales’s actions in kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips – without her consent – after the win over England in Sydney in August. FIFA has banned him for three years after he was also seen grabbing his crotch in the VIP area, cupped and stroked the face of England player Laura Coombs and seemingly forcefully kissed Lucy Bronze on the face. 

6 Tom Curry vs Bongi Mbonambi: English forward Tom Curry caused an uproar when he claimed South African hooker Bongi Mbonambi racially abused him in the Rugby World Cup final in Paris. Mbonambi reacted by saying it was a misunderstanding and that he was speaking Afrikaans and World Rugby found insufficient evidence to sanction the Springbok.

7 Maynard’s tribunal triumph: Collingwood star Brayden Maynard was sent directly to the tribunal for a heavy bump on Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw which left him unconscious for several minutes during the Demons’ seven-point qualifying final loss. Maynard angered the Dees by trying to visit Brayshaw at home with flowers and wine, and there was widespread fury among the rest of the AFL when the tribunal cleared him of careless conduct with severe impact and high contact.

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8 Angelo Mathews timed out: The veteran Sri Lankan batter created unwanted history when he was dismissed timed out when Bangladesh skipper Shakab Al Hasan took advantage of Mathews’ helmet strap breaking before facing his first ball during their World Cup clash. 

9 Hooper & Cooper not so super: Michael Hopper and Quade Cooper were expected to be key components of the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign but Eddie Jones didn’t even deem them worthy of selection in the touring squad. He even claimed they were not the right role models for the younger players in the team.

10 Val Holmes’ white powder bag: North Queensland star Valentine Holmes had a lot of explaining to do after posting a photo of himself during Mad Monday celebrations looking worse for wear and holding a small bag containing white powder. He later claimed it was a prank gone wrong but it cost him $25,000 and a Test jersey from the NRL. 

11 Ball swap ignites England’s fifth Test charge to victory: Australia were cruising at 0-135 in the final Ashes Test and looked on course to chase down the target of 384. England repeatedly complained about the state of the ball and after eventually convincing the umpires to switch it, the new pill started hooping around corners and the Poms ended up winning by 49 runs.

12 Jon Rahm joins LIV: Golf’s civil war was supposed to be heading towards a truce but LIV struck a monumental blow against the PGA by signing the two-time major winner on a deal worth more than $900m, more than the traditional tour’s entire pool of player prize money. 

13 Port fined $100K over concussion breaches: When Aliir Aliir was knocked to the turf after violently clashing heads with teammate Lachie Jones, there were concerns he might be out for weeks. Jones was subbed out of the game but Aliir was not given a concussion test and was allowed to return to the game. The AFL was not impressed, handing a $100,000 fine to the club.

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14 Wests Tigers board sacked: The NRL’s back-to-back wooden spooners requested an independent review into the club’s operations and the findings led to the entire board being sacked and the chief executive falling on his sword. The former chairman, Lee Hagipantelis, and CEO Justin Pascoe had long been in the crosshairs of fed-up fans who had been calling for their head for years. 

15 India switch pitch for World Cup semi: The ICC was supposed to be in charge of pitch preparation at the ODI World Cup. But the groundstaff at Mumbai for the semi were instructed by the Indian camp to prepare two wickets for their sudden-death clash with New Zealand and the home side then picked out their preferred option, which was done without ICC pitch supervisor Andy Anderson’s knowledge. India won the high-scoring match but karma caught up with them in the final when Pat Cummins won the toss and elected to bowl, paving the way for Australia’s upset win.

16 VAR dramas abound: It’s happening all over the globe but the English Premier League seemed to be a hotbed of VAR dramas. Liverpool questioned the ‘sporting integrity’ of their 2-1 loss to Tottenham after a Luis Diaz goal was disallowed while four disallowed goals, three red-card checks and two penalty reviews in Chelsea’s 4-1 victory over Tottenham also caused widespread anger. Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta is on a mission to eradicate VAR once and for all.

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

17 Addo-Carr banned for Koori Knockout brawl: Canterbury winger Josh Addo-Carr lost his Australian jersey, $5000 from a fine and nearly his contract as well after he was involved in a wild brawl at the Koori Knockout. Police were called after The Foxx was involved in an on-field fight which mushroomed to such an extent that the match was called off.   

18 Italian football rocked by illegal betting scandal: More than 40 players were implicated in gambling on matches, including several stars in the Serie A. Star midfielder Sandro Tonali was one of the players who cooperated with the investigation, admitting he placed bets on AC Milan games during his time at the club, and was banned for 10 months.

19 Djokovic writes “Kosovo is at the heart of Serbia” on TV camera: Novak keeps winning tennis tournaments but also remains in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. He caused further drama a the French Open in May when he wrote this message, followed by “Stop the violence” and then repeated the message on social media. Serbs, who comprise a majority in Kosovo’s north, have never accepted its 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and still see Belgrade as their capital more than two decades after the Kosovo Albanian uprising against repressive Serbian rule.  

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20 Giddey accused of inappropriate relationship: The young Aussie NBA star went viral last month when vision emerged of him with a teenager with claims of an inappropriate relationship. There is an investigation ongoing but his franchise, Oklahoma City, has allowed him to keep playing. 

21 Players cover logos in NRL CBA dispute: After months of protracted negotiations, the RLPA advised the players to cover the NRL logos on their jerseys with tape and not to conduct media interviews on game day. There was some backlash against the players but it was only shortlived with the deal finally being done in September without any more industrial action.

22 US Open golf champion accused of cheating: Eventual winner Wyndham Clark was lining up a shot in the rough during the back nine of the final round and his ball appeared to move, which should have been a one-stroke penalty. Clark ended up edging out Rory McIlroy by one stroke. 

23 Everton deducted 10 points in EPL: The team paid the price for the club’s breaches of the Profit and Sustainability Rules after an independent panel found they had lost $233 million over a three-year period. Roughly a third of the way into the current season when the penalties were handed down, Everton were on 14 points, with four wins, two draws and six losses, but went back into the drop zone.

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