Spain’s Paralympic basketball team won the gold medal at Sydney 2000 – but it later emerged that 10 of the team’s 12 players weren’t actually disabled.
The former head of Spain’s governing body of sports for athletes with intellectual disabilities has denied knowing anything about an elaborate scheme which led to able-bodied basketball players winning a Paralympic title – eight years after he took full legal responsibility for the scandal.
The Spanish basketball team beat their Russian counterparts to win the gold medal match at Sydney 2000, but it would soon emerge that something sinister had been going on behind the scenes.
A journalist blew the whistle on the team’s cheating not long after their win, after discovering that only two of the 12-strong team actually had an intellectual disability.
Those 10 fake Paralympians were among 19 people later brought up on charges relating to the scheme.
Fernando Martín Vicente, the president of Spain’s Sports Federation for People with Intellectual Disabilities (Feddi), was also among those subject to criminal charges.
He accepted full legal responsibility for the fraud in 2013, leading to the charges against the other 18 defendants being dropped.
However, in his first public statement since those legal proceedings, Vicente has denied having any involvement in the plot and labelled the accusations against him as “absurd and unfounded”.
“How was it done? Who encouraged it? What doctors or professionals lent themselves to such a thing? Sincerely, I don’t know,” he wrote in a letter to the BBC.
The disgraced former vice-president of the Spanish Paralympic Committee also pointed to his record at the forefront of sport for those with learning difficulties and his own daughter’s diagnosis with an intellectual disability as evidence as to why he did not have any involvement.
But the secretary general of the Spanish Paralympic Committee Miguel Sagarra has said it is “100% impossible that something of this relevance would have taken place without his knowledge”.
The scandal had many victims, as it led to a total ban on athletes with intellectual disabilities from taking part in the following two Paralympic Games.
One of those most directly affected was Ramón Torres, the captain of that Spanish team at Sydney 2000 who was one of the two players who did have a genuine disability.
The revelation that most of his teammates were not disabled meant he had to hand back his gold medal.
He had questioned those in the team who did not appear to be disabled at the time, but was told by the hierarchy that there was no issue.
Torres was outraged at Vicente’s renewed denial of knowing anything about the fraud.
“Fernando Martín says now he doesn’t know anything about it – he can’t do that,” Torres said. “Of course he knew all about it. I thought he was a bigger man.
“He did something wrong. He should say, ‘I am sorry,’ and I would be very, very pleased.”