The 5 Greatest Sports Hoaxes of All Time (and 4 Others)

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5. Conspiracy 58 and the World Cup that supposedly never happened

What if the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden never happened? What if it was staged by FIFA, the CIA, and Swedish and American television producers?

The 2002 Swedish documentary Konspiration 58 (Conspiracy 58 in English) argues that Sweden in 1958 lacked the resources to host an event as big as a World Cup and that the Scandinavian nation faked the entire three-week tournament.

The film says that footage from the World Cup showed houses that never actually stood in the parts of Sweden where the matches allegedly took place and showed shadows that would be impossible in Sweden, given the northern nation’s position relative to the sun. Konspiration 58 claims that the CIA and American television broadcasters were involved because the United States, at the height of the Cold War, wanted to test the effects of propaganda on TV viewers.

Konspiration 58 revealed a hoax, but the hoax wasn’t the 1958 World Cup…it was the film itself. The end of the documentary admitted as much. Still, plenty of people believed the movie’s claims, much to the chagrin of the Brazilian team that won its nation’s first Cup in 1958.

You can watch Konspiration 58 in its entirety (in Swedish, with Norwegian subtitles) on YouTube.

Can the sun really make that shadow in Sweden? Was the 1958 World Cup just a well orchestrated hoax?

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4. Masal Bugduv, the Moldovan soccer prodigy

In January 2009 the Times of London published a list of the world’s top 50 soccer prospects. The 30th most promising young star was an unknown 16-year-old attacker from Moldova named Masal Bugduv. Bugduv had been connected with Arsenal and “other top clubs” and had apparently played with the Moldovan national team.

People who were intrigued by the young talent soon noticed that he did not appear on the roster of Olimpia Bălți, which the Times article listed as Bugduv’s club team, nor on the roster of the Moldovan national team.

Because Masal Bugduv didn’t exist.

He was the product of an assortment of blog posts, fake Associated Press reports, and Wikipedia edits. And the Times wasn’t the only publication to fall for the ruse. Goal.com and the soccer magazine When Saturday Comes both mentioned Masal Bugduv. The identity of the person or people behind the Bugduv hoax remains a mystery.

The name “Masal Bugduv” may come from “M’asal beag dubh,” which is Irish for “my little black donkey.” Run of Play explains, ” ‘My Little Black Donkey’ is an old Irish children’s story by Pádraic Ó Conaire that happens to work as a brilliant satire of the culture of football transfers.”

The Times Online fell for the Masal Bugduv hoax.

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3. Sidd Finch perfects the art of the pitch

New York Mets fans were delighted when they opened the April 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated and read George Plimpton’s profile of baseball phenom Hayden “Sidd” Finch, a rookie pitcher training with the Mets.

“The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” explained that Finch had never before played organized ball. But, after learning “yogic mastery of mind-body” in Tibet, Sidd (short for “Siddhartha”) developed the ability to throw perfect strikes at 168 miles per hour. When Finch pitched he wore a heavy hiking boot on his right foot. His left foot was bare.

Despite his considerable talents on the pitcher’s mound, Finch had not yet committed to the Mets. He was still considering pursuing a career as a French horn player.

The truth about Sidd Finch was hidden in the article’s subheading:

He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga—and his future in baseball

The first letters of each word in the subhead, before the dash, spell out “HAPPY APRIL FOOLS DAY.”

Plimpton further developed the Finch’s story, publishing the novel The Curious Case of Sidd Finch in 1987.

Sidd Finch, pitching (as always) with one hiking boot and one bare foot. (Photo from Sports Illustrated)

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2. Ivan Renko commits to Indiana

Bob Knight had no love for self-appointed recruiting experts and considered recruiting services a sham. So in January 1993 the then Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach had some fun at their expense.

On his weekly television show Knight mentioned that he had secured a commitment from a 6-8 Yugoslav player named Ivan Renko. Knight said that he had discovered Renko at a coaching clinic in Europe and that he could not comment further because of NCAA rules and the situation in Renko’s home country.

Sportswriters soon figured out that Renko was a fabrication, but recruiting services weren’t so savvy. Several included Renko in their rankings, some going as far as to evaluate his playing style.

bob-knight-ivan-renko

Ivan Renko never played for Indiana, obviously, but "his" legend lives on.

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1. The Sabres draft Taro Tsujimoto

Bob Knight never offered an actual scholarship to Ivan Renko, but the Buffalo Sabres used an actual draft pick on Taro Tsujimoto.

In 1974, long before the NBC Sports Network was televising the NHL draft, the draft was closed to the public. Officials from the league’s 18 teams would meet at a hotel or select players via conference call. The 1974 draft was a conference call draft. Nine rounds were scheduled, but the draft would continue as long as teams kept selecting players.

By the eleventh round of the draft Buffalo Sabres general manager George “Punch” Imlach was tired of the whole affair. He wasn’t interested in investing so much time and energy into picking players that would probably never make an NHL roster. So he drafted Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas.

Imlach’s peers found it odd that he would draft a Japanese player. The NHL in the 1970s wasn’t the global league that it is today. But they had no idea that Tsujimoto wasn’t a real person and that the Tokyo Katanas were not a real team. Imlach came up with the name “Taro Tsujimoto” with the help of his secretary, whom he had do some research on common Japanese names. He choose “Katanas” because it was the best Japanese translation for “Sabres.”

When training camp began Imlach, who had been fielding questions about Taro Tsujimoto for weeks, confessed to the hoax. But by that time the eleventh-round pick from the Tokyo Katanas was listed in all sorts of NHL media guides and other publications.

Sabres' General Manager Punch Imlach drafted the imaginary Taro Tsujimoto in the 1974 NHL Draft.

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About Josh Tinley

Josh Tinley writes the Away From The Action column at Midwest Sports Fans, covering all aspects of sport aside from what actually happens on the field, court, or track. Josh grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from the University of Evansville and Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports and the managing editor of LinC, a weekly curriculum for teens that explores the intersection of faith and culture. Josh lives outside Nashville with his wife, Ashlee, and children, Meyer (7), Resha Kate (5), and Malachi (3). He will not allow himself to die before the Evansville Purple Aces make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Follow him on Twitter @joshtinley or send him an e-mail.

Comments

  1. What about Sidd Finch?

  2. Coolinall says:

    Danny Almonte?

  3. Bum Ruben says:

    I actually drafted Sidd Finch for my Rotisserie (now fantasy…dur) League

  4. What a great blog post! Thanks for sharing it on your site.

  5. Dice K and the unhittable screw ball.

  6. elmer simendinger says:

    Dennis Rodeman pretending to be a basketball player

  7. Beach Guy13 says:

    Sidd Finch was obviously a joke from the start, never a believable “hoax”

    • sportsman says:

      B.S. beachie.  I remember the article and anything written by George Plimpton was more than acceptable.  And Jim, Dice K’s pitch was basically a badly thrown slider, quite the opposite of the screw ball.  He did have a great forkball or split-finger. 

      • Actually it is a changeup. Why would anyone mistake a slider which would break away from a right-handed batter with a screwball which breaks in? The pitch that was called a scewball, or even worse the mysterious gyro, is a circle change with moderate movement in on the hands of right handed batters.

  8. Lawsonbob says:

    I read in Sport Magazine long ago about a hoax involving a fake college team and its fake star player, a Chinese or Japanese running back who ate two bowls of rice every halftime. Somebody would call in the stories of this fake team and the back’s exploits every week to the New York papers and the guy was being touted as a potential all-America until the hoax was revealed, with two false games remaining.

    • Yes I remember that too. The running back was named John Chung or something,referred to as a ‘stellar Chinese halfback’

  9. The best April Fools joke would be “TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS MAKE PLAYOFFS”

  10. 5years2go says:

    “the runner” magazine ran an article similar to “sidd finch” in the 80’s (not sure of the year. it could have been the same year as the plimpton article.) it told the story of a young african woman who ran 20- 30 miles daily in her bare feet. although she had never competed before, the author clocked her on a dirt track doing 26.2 in 2:19 and change. (at that time, no woman had run a sub-2:20 marathon). i fell for it hook,line, and sinker. in this case, the first letter of each paragraph spelled out april fools. still one of the best sports bios i have read, even if it wasn’t true.

  11. deadbugman says:

    @Lawsonbob  That hoax was perpetrated in 1941 and involved a running back named Johnny “Celestial Comet” Chung playing for a non-existent Plainfield Teachers College in New Jersey.

  12. Gulraider says:

    Doesn’t anyone remember the runner at the olypics who ran into the stadium like they were the leader?

  13. Gulfraider says:

    olympics

  14. Kevinbellin says:

    The greatest sports hoax of all time was 1989.   The Minnesota Vikings were faked into a trade that was to result in the super bowl win.  The fanfare was not for Minnesota, but for the Dallas Cowboys who acquired eight draft picks, including three first rounds. Among the players Dallas got with those picks were Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, and eventually Russell Maryland through another trade. All three were core players in Dallas’s Super Bowl dynasty in the 1990s.  

  15. AWARDING STEVE SPURRIER THE HEISMAN TROPHY…..JAMES POWELL

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