Gamblers have apparently found a novel way to fix English soccer games. On the night of Feb. 10 three men were arrested in South London for allegedly tampering with floodlights on the grounds of the Premier League's Charlton Athletic. Police believe the men were planning to cause a blackout during last Saturday's Charlton Athletic-Liverpool game. The saboteurs are thought to be linked to a betting syndicate in Malaysia, where bookmakers pay off on games that are stopped after halftime.
Suspicions of a link between floodlight failures and Far East gamblers arose last season after three Premier League games went black in the second half. Scotland Yard has advised pro clubs in England and Wales to examine their soccer stadiums for signs of foul play.
Good or Boy Toys
All those Furbies from Christmas now lie squished like so many Texas armadillos, run over by a juggernaut called NASCAR. The country's fastest-growing spectator sport is also a force in the toy industry.
Last week at Toy Fair, the industry's annual trade show in New York City, NASCAR basketballs and board games jostled for space with five-inch-tall Jeff Gordon action figures and Dale Earnhardt plush toy cars. Mattel rolled out an item called Smell My Pits, a Hot Wheels car and trailer that reek of burned rubber, gasoline and oil. Another Hot Wheels item, NASCAR Marbles, features small chunks of rubber scraped from stock car speedways last year. "Every kid grows up playing with cars," says NASCAR vice president of marketing George Pyne, who adds that "speed appeals to kids."
The current surge of interest in stock car toys caps a banner decade for NASCAR's licensed products. Since 1990, annual sales of stock car racing goodies have jumped from $80 million to $950 million. Last year Hasbro's NASCAR-themed Winners Circle line more than tripled its sales, and the company's 1/64-scale die-cast cars were the 13th most popular toy in the country. After her debut last year, NASCAR Barbie became the best-selling collectible Barbie in history.
Stuffed stock cars account for 10% of all sales for Mary Meyer, a Townshend, Vt., company that specializes in fuzzy toys. "We've been in business for 66 years, and the Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt items were the best selling plushes we ever had," says company president Kevin Meyer.
Now there's even a Saturday-morning cartoon on the way. NASCAR Superchargers, which will debut in the fall on Fox Kids, won't be soft-pedaled. Its slogan calls the show "ear-splitting, high-octane, supercharged fun!"
IOC Good Guy
Honor Among Thieves
Buried in the 300-page ethics report released by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee on Feb. 9 is the tale of Andrei Siperco, the son of former Romanian IOC member Alexandru Siperco. After joining his father for a trip to Utah in 1996—a year after Salt Lake City was awarded the 2002 Games—Andrei got a letter from bid committee vice president Dave Johnson. Would he accept a position in Brigham Young's history department, Johnson asked, and an opportunity to finish his doctoral studies there?