Tennis rocked by Grand Slam match-fixing allegations

The Australian Open kicked off Monday amid allegations of widespread match-fixing that involve some of tennis' top players, according to a report by the BBC and BuzzFeed News.

The allegations include claims that over the last decade, 16 to 50 ranked players - including winners of Grand Slam titles - have repeatedly been flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) over suspicions they have thrown matches.

Eight of the players repeatedly flagged to the TIU, which was set up to police illegal activities in world tennis, are due to play in the Australian Open, the first of the year's Grand Slam tennis tournaments.

None of these players has been named publicly.


A CCTV camera is seen near a tennis player-shaped weather vane at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where the Wimbledon Tennis Championships take place, in south London, Britain January 18, 2016. World tennis was rocked on Monday by allegations that the game's authorities have failed to deal with widespread match-fixing.
Toby Melville | Reuters
A CCTV camera is seen near a tennis player-shaped weather vane at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where the Wimbledon Tennis Championships take place, in south London, Britain January 18, 2016. World tennis was rocked on Monday by allegations that the game's authorities have failed to deal with widespread match-fixing.

The documents passed to the BBC and Buzzfeed News by a group of whistleblowers who wish to remain anonymous, expose evidence of suspected match-fixing at the top level of the sport.

They show that the TIU inquiry found betting syndicates in Russia, northern Italy and Sicily making large sums betting on matches investigators thought to be fixed.

Three of those matches were at Wimbledon.

Chris Kermode, who heads the U.K.-based Association of Tennis Professionals, rejected claims of evidence that match-fixing had "been suppressed for any reason or isn't being thoroughly investigated," the BBC reported.

The TIU's job was to look into suspicious betting activity after a game involving Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello. Both players were cleared of violating any rules, but the investigation developed into a much wider inquiry looking into a web of gamblers linked to top-level players.

In a confidential report for the tennis authorities in 2008, the inquiry team said 28 players involved in these matches should be investigated, but the findings were never followed up.

"As a result, no new investigations into any of the players who were mentioned in the 2008 report were opened," a TIU spokesman told the BBC.

1MoreCreative | Getty Images

In response, tennis introduced a new anti-corruption code in 2009 but were told previous corruption offences could not be pursued.

In subsequent years, there were repeated alerts sent to the TIU about a third of these players. None of them was disciplined by the TIU.

However, with the sports betting industry exploding in recent years, multiple sources told Reuters that the revelation was no surprise to those who closely follow the sport. Out of the spotlight at small tournaments around the world, the temptations are obvious and malfeasance very difficult to prove, sources added.

Betting on tennis is relatively simple and comes with enormous potential payoffs, a professional tennis gambler told Reuters under the condition of anonymity.

Trailing only soccer, tennis is the second most active betting market, shows research by the European Gaming and Betting Association.

The European Sports Security Association, which monitors betting for leading bookmakers, flagged up more than 50 suspicious matches to the TIU in 2015. The organisation also declared that tennis attracts more suspicious gambling activity than other sport.

All of the players under suspicion of match-fixing have been allowed to continue competing.

At the end of the first day of the 2016 Australian Grand Slam, several of the world's top players were asked to react to the allegations of match fixing.

Defending champion Novak Djokovich spoke about an incident in 2006 when it was alleged he had been offered $200,000 to throw a first-round match in St Petersburg, a tournament he did not eventually attend.

"I was not approached directly," he told reporters, The Guardian said. "Well … I was approached through people that were working with me at that time, that were with my team. Of course, we threw it away right away. It didn't even get to me, the guy that was trying to talk to me, he didn't even get to me directly. There was nothing out of it."

Several media reported that Roger Federer seemed particularly angry by the claim that one of the players under suspicion was a Grand Slam champion.

"I mean, it's, like, who, what? It's, like, thrown around. It's so easy to do that," he told reporters.

"I would like to hear the name. I would love to hear names. Then at least it's concrete stuff and you can actually debate about it. Was it the player? Was it the support team? Who was it? Was it before? Was it a doubles player, a singles player? Which slam? It's so all over the place. It's nonsense to answer something that is pure speculation."

Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova told a press conference said she hoped players would not be tempted to fix matches, whatever their ranking or income. "To me the sport has always meant a lot more than money. I know that the more successful you are and the more matches you win, the more prize money you will receive. But, ultimately, that's never been my personal driving factor in the sport. There's just so much more on the line."

Serena Williams said the first she had heard of it was as a warning that she may be asked about it after her win against Italian Camila Giorgi, "But that's literally all I have heard about it."


You can read the full report here.


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