Sporting spies – or not

During Wimbledon fortnight in the UK, World No1 male tennis player and new Wimbledon men’s champion, Carlos Alcaraz, had to admit that his father (named Carlos senior) had filmed a Novak Djokovic training session at a practice area known as Aorangi Park. However, Alcaraz said that this was not spying as many alleged but rather that it was because his father is such a fanatical tennis enthusiast. The action did not break any rules but even so the incident became known as “Spygate” at this year’s tournament. Alcaraz said he doesn’t need any spy footage as there is already so much footage of Djokovic publicly available. Djokovic didn’t comment on the particular incident but bemoaned the lack of privacy generally when training: “The fact is that you are not relaxed. You know everyone is looking over your shoulder at what’s going on, what you’re working on.”

This sort of incident is not unusual in the world of sport. It is most often seen between football teams. For instance, on 10 January 2019, an unnamed man was caught on his hands and knees using pliers to try to cut through the perimeter fence of Derby County FC’s training ground. Police were called and he was found to be a member of the Leeds United staff hoping to spy on the Derby team ahead of their crunch match with Leeds United. Leeds manager Marcelo Biesla later admitted the offence and said that he took full responsibility for ordering the action saying that in his country this is quite natural and he had been carrying out the practice “for many years”. He later admitted that: “Now I have to respect the norms in the country where I work”. Although Leeds apologised, eleven football clubs formally complained and the Football Association fined Leeds £200,000. (Derby lost the match 2-0.)

But this was hardly the most blatant example: In 2013, Genoa’s youth team coach, Luca De Pra, was caught spying on local rivals Sampodoria while they were training. He was wearing full sniper camouflage gear! Sampodoria said he was caught hiding“like Rambo under a tree”. De Pra was fined by his club – but it probably took him longer to live down the embarrassment.

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