Spanish sports boss gets light fine for using ringers at Paralympics
Performers practice carrying the official flag on the eve of the opening ceremony for the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games on Oct. 17, 2000. [AFP]

A Spanish court on Monday slapped a former sports boss with a fine of 5,400 euros ($7,300) for fielding athletes with no disabilities at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney in order to win medals.

The Madrid court found the former head of the Spanish Federation for Mentally Handicapped Sports, Fernando Martin Vicente, guilty of fraud and ordered that he pay the fine and return 142,355 euros in government subsidies which the federation received for the athletes without disabilities.

The scandal broke in November 2000 when Carlos Ribagorda, a member of Spain's gold medal-winning intellectually handicapped basketball team in Sydney, claimed that he and other athletes in categories such as track and field, table tennis and swimming were not mentally deficient.

"Of the 200 Spanish athletes at Sydney at least 15 had no type of physical or mental handicap -- they didn't even pass medical or psychological examinations," he wrote in the magazine Capital just days after the Paralympics ended.

Ribargorda said he had played for the Spanish Paralympic basketball team for over two years but had no mental handicap.

He said the only test he had been asked to complete at his first training session was six press-ups, after which his blood pressure was taken.

Spain had their most successful Paralympics in Sydney, winning 107 medals to finish third in the medals table after Australia and Britain.

Martin Vicente resigned as the head of the Spanish Federation for Mentally Handicapped Sports, which was responsible for screening some participants in the Paralympics in Sydney shortly after the Capital article was published, saying he accepted "total responsibility."

He had argued that psychological evaluations of mentally deficient athletes as difficult and that mistakes had been made.

"If someone wants to cheat, it's difficult to detect. It's easy to pretend you have little intelligence but the opposite is difficult," he said when he announced his resignation.

Eighteen other people, including members of the basketball team that went to Sydney and managers of the Spanish Federation for Mentally Handicapped Sports, were also charged over the affair but the court on Monday dropped the charges.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]