“There was definitely someone in the apartment block filming but it might have been a Japanese fan,” chuckled England coach Eddie Jones when asked about claims that New Zealand have been spying on his side’s training sessions ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final in Yokohama.
“I don’t care, mate. We have got someone there [at the New Zealand training camp] now!”
Jones went on to claim that spying has been part-and-parcel of sport for a number of years, and there certainly have been a number of notable cases of espionage over the years...
Football: Marcelo Bielsa - January 2019
It’s not often that the Championship steals the limelight from the Premier League but at the start of 2019, football news coverage was dominated by Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa’s admission that employees were acting on his behalf to peep in on other sides that they were due to play. As a result, ‘Spygate’ blazed us into the new year!
When one of his minions was caught out at a Derby County training session, Bielsa was particularly rambunctious in response, holding an unscheduled 70-minute press conference in which he not just addressed the charge but also broke down his entire tactical plan for the match against the Rams.
“Regarding what I’ve done, it is not illegal. It’s not specified, described or restrained. It’s not seen as a good thing but it is not a violation of the law.
“I observed all the rivals we played against and watched the training sessions of all opponents,” unabashedly proclaimed the Argentine to the baffled members of the press.
“So why did I send someone to watch them? Just because I thought I wasn’t violating the norm. All the information I need to clarify my tactics I gather without watching the training session of the opponent, but we feel guilty if we don’t work enough. Watching the opponents training allows us to have less anxiety and, in my case, I am stupid enough to allow this kind of behaviour.”
Leeds were subsequently fined £200,000 and a new law was instigated by the English Football League banning clubs from viewing their opponents’ training within 72 hours of a fixture. The pliers and the binoculars were no doubt confiscated too.
F1: McLaren v Ferrari - 2007
It might not have been a dossier handed over in a dirty brown envelope but McLaren were found in possession of sensitive information on their Formula One rivals Ferrari in 2007. The technical info reportedly ran for nearly 800 pages each, with the Ferrari logo emblazoned upon them and detailing every aspect of the vehicle the team raced that year.
The saga ran across the summer, with McLaren Chief Operating Officer Martin Whitmarsh apologising to The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and Team Ferrari. That didn’t stop McLaren being fined a Brobdingnagian £50million for their actions.
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was also embroiled in the scandal, the then-McLaren racer threatening to ‘blow this case wide open’ (not his actual words we imagine) after arguing with team boss Ron Dennis. The figure at the centre of it all was British mechanic Nigel Stepney, seemingly aggrieved by his treatment by Ferrari after close to 15 years and the focus of the criminal enquiry which took place in Italy. Stepney was eventually fined €600.
Baseball: The Houston Hacker - 2015
St Louis Cardinals analyst Chris Correa sourced information from his side’s Major League Baseball rival Houston Astros an incredible 48 times over a two-and-a-half year period between 2012 and 2014. The conniving Correa was finally caught out in 2015, when he had been removed from his post.
His ‘work’ had led him to be promoted to position of scouting director, while he had caused around $1.7m of losses to the Astros.
The Cardinals were punished with a $2m fine and had to give up two draft picks to the Astros. Correa produced the playground excuse of the unfounded allegation that the Astros had ‘done it first’.
Although he served 46 months in prison, lost close to $250,000 and was banned indefinitely from the MLB, Correa didn’t appear to learn his lesson. In 2018, he waded into controversy again after the Astros were claimed to have stolen from other teams, tweeting: “Guess who isn’t surprised?”