The 3 Biggest Referee Scandals in Sports History

If you’re a referee, umpire, or other type of game official in sports, you shouldn’t want people to know your name because you shouldn’t be part of games, which is likely the case if you’re a household name among sports fans. Every sport has officials who fans know of as being among the worst at their job. While being a bad referee isn’t good, it’s not as bad as becoming famous for being involved in a scandal, as occasionally happens in sports. Here’s a look at the three biggest referee scandals in sports history.

2002 Olympic figure skating

At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, controversy erupted during the figure skating competition. Canadian duo Jamie Salé and David Pelletier were expected to win the free skate event after a flawless performance, but when the judges’ scores were revealed they finished second to the Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, who had a minor-but-obvious technical error during their routine.

The TV broadcasters were visibly outraged over the decision, and members of the media immediately suspected foul play involved in the judging. It turned out those people may have been right. After the decision was announced, French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne confessed to being pressured by a top French official to vote for the Russians, no matter what. Le Gougne later recanted her confession.

NFL replacement referees

In June 2012, the NFL began a lockout of its game officials due to a dispute over a collective bargaining agreement. The lockout extended into the start of the regular season, so the NFL used replacement officials early in the 2012 campaign.

In the final play of a Week 3 Monday night game between the Packers and Seahawks, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw a game-winning Hail Mary pass to WR Golden Tate for a touchdown. The NFL later admitted that Tate should have been issued an offensive pass interference penalty, which was not called.

The penalty would have negated the score and led to a Packers victory. That nationally televised no-call was the culmination of several officiating miscues in the first three weeks of the season. That play, which has been dubbed the “Fail Mary,” is often thought to be the play that led to the league and union agreeing to a CBA and ending the lockout, which occurred two days after the Monday night game. The regular officials returned to the field in Week 4.

The NBA referee betting scandal

Tim Donaghy may be the most famous referee in NBA history, but it’s not necessarily for anything he did, good or bad, on the court. Instead, Donaghy’s fame — or infamy — resulted from a betting scandal that he was at the center of.

It was revealed that in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, Donaghy bet on games that he was officiating, and he would make — or not make — calls that would affect the point spread in his favor. He even used the league’s other referees, having them unknowingly help him win his bets.

They were unwitting pawns, who Donaghy would instruct to alter their officiating strategies in ways that would benefit Donaghy’s wagers. An FBI investigation into Donaghy’s actions was made public in July 2007. It resulted in Donaghy pledding guilty to two federal charges in August.

Later, in July 2008, he was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He was released from prison in November 2009, and wrote a tell-all book on himself and the NBA, detailing the scandal and his role in it. The scandal led then-NBA commissioner David Stern to revise behavior guidelines to avoid future NBA referee scandals.