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Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Bugs linger in sport's murky side

By Gordon Farquhar
BBC sports news correspondent

Fabio Capello
The FA is looking into an alleged security breach at the England hotel

The notion that someone might want to bug the hotel used by the England squad ahead of last week's World Cup warm-up against Egypt raises all kinds of questions but it is hardly a first for sport.

Bugging, covert recording, spy cameras, long-lens photography, stolen documents and stooges have been a murky undercurrent for some considerable time.

It starts from the idea of getting a competitive advantage.

I suspect there has been many a mud-spattered dressing room where an upturned cup has been pressed against the adjoining wall to try to listen in to the opposition's half-time team talk and find out if the big centre-forward is coming on and if they are changing to 4-4-2.

Extrapolate that out a few hundred times and you get to the McLaren/Ferrari spygate scandal of 2007, when motorsport's governing body, the FIA, eventually fined McLaren to the tune of $100m for possessing confidential technical information obtained without Ferrari's knowledge.

Inside information is hugely valuable to bookies and punters alike, especially with the in-game markets and spread of odds-making to such things as starting line-ups, timing of substitutions and so on.

Gordon Farquhar

Spying goes on at all levels, it's just a question of degree.

What's more, bugging is remarkably easy to do. There are plenty of companies who will sell you a small device easily concealed in a wall socket with a basic radio transmitter.

You just wire it up, set up your receiver within range and listen in - just make sure you read the small disclaimer that says not legal for use in the European Union.

And there's the rub. The privacy and confidentiality laws in Britain forbid this sort of snooping and also generally prevent the media from broadcasting or repeating the content of any material recorded this way.

Not so in other countries. Take China. At the women's football World Cup in 2007, the Danish team complained that they had been spied on during a tactics discussion in a hotel room in Wuhan City.

Suspicions grew when noises were heard coming from behind a mirror. According to the Danes, when they investigated it turned out to be a two-way one. Behind it were two men in hotel uniforms with video cameras recording their discussion.

After losing 3-2 to China in the opening game the next day, the Danish Football Association made an official complaint, but no further action was taken.

Maybe all sports teams should take a leaf out of Sir Clive Woodward's book. During the Rugby World Cup in 2003, the then England coach had the changing rooms and hotels swept for bugs as a matter of routine.

In 2005, All Blacks coach Graham Henry accused England of spying on them before an autumn international. He claimed they had chased off two men in camouflage gear they had seen filming their closed training session and suggested they were working for England, although no official complaint was made.

These examples just scratch the surface of the claims that are out there. What is concerning now is the possibility that there is more to this than just a sporting motivation.

Inside information is hugely valuable to bookies and punters alike, especially with the in-game markets and spread of odds-making to such things as starting line-ups, timing of substitutions and so on.

Money's always been a prime motivator for wrongdoing, whether it be to cheat the odds or perhaps, in this case, get hold of information to sell to the media. Either which way, the English FA will want to know how and by whom their private meetings were bugged.

The why speaks for itself.



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see also
FA probes England security breach
09 Mar 10 |  Football
England 3-1 Egypt
03 Mar 10 |  Football
McLaren rule out 'spygate' appeal
21 Sep 07 |  Formula 1
McLaren team 'used Ferrari data'
14 Sep 07 |  Formula 1
Women's World Cup set to kick off
10 Sep 07 |  Women
Johnson laughs off spying claims
26 Jul 06 |  Internationals
Robinson refutes 'spying' claim
16 Nov 05 |  Internationals


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