Pro Tennis Organizations Accused by BBC of Covering up Match-Fixing Allegations
As the Australian Open sets to begin this coming week, the BBC and BuzzFeed are reporting a bombshell that a “core group” of 16 players have been accused of fixing matches. The most startling part of not the allegations that players in the Top 50 in the past decade — including least one of them a tennis players who won a Grand Slam — are alleged to have fixed matches.
The startling part is these players were repeatedly flagged by gaming insiders and investigators alike, but were allowed to continue playing, despite suspicions they were fixing tennis matches. This has opened the sport’s top governing bodies to charges they covered up match-fixing evidence, which is the most startling part of the allegations.
Those tennis organizations were quick to dismiss any wrongdoing. Chris Kermode, Direct of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), said, no evidence “[has] been suppressed for any reason or isn’t being thoroughly investigated.”
Kermode added in defense of the ATP, “While the BBC and BuzzFeed reports mainly refer to events from about 10 years ago, we will investigate any new information.”
ALlegations from 2007
It should be noted that most of the allegations stem from 2007. That is the year suspicious betting happened around a match involving Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello. That betting activity was reported at the time and Davydenko, who ended the year ranked 4th on the ATP rankings. In the four major tournaments that year, Nikolay Davydenko reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, the semifinals of the French Open, the fourth round of Wimbledon, and the semifinals of the U.S. Open.
The inquiry looked into the match between Davydenko and Vassallo Arguello, but the investigators quickly widened the scope of the probe to include “a web of gamblers linked to top players.” Documents obtained by the BBC and Buzzfeed found that the probe eventually uncovered betting syndicates in Russia, Northern Italy, and Sicily which made hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on matches which were thought to be fixed. Three of those matches were at Wimbledon that year.
2008 Confidential Report
The investigators made a confidential report to the Tennis Integrity Unit in 2008. That report said 28 different players needed to be investigated. None of those players were subjected to additional scrutiny. The ATP instituted a new anti-corruption code in 2009, but were told by their legal advisers they could not pursue charges according to that code for previous offenses. Based on that advice, the ATP left the matter at that.
A TIU spokesman confirmed that information to BBC reporters, saying, “As a result, no new investigations into any of the players who were mentioned in the 2008 report were opened.”
In subsequent years, the TIU received multiple alerts about a third of the players in the original report. No new investigations were launched into the conduct of those players. None of the players were disciplined under the new, more stringent anti-corruption code.
Now, a group of whistle blowers inside tennis’s major sanctioning bodies are beginning to release information to the BBC and Buzzfeed about this lack of oversight. When the BBC began to speak to the original investigators, they said strong evidence linked a small group of players to the betting syndicates and strong action at the time could have sent a message to players that no such conduct would have been admitted, but that oppportunity was lost through inaction.
“A Core of 10 Players”
Mark Phillips was one of the original investigators. Phillips has been a betting investigator for 20 years, so he has seen many cases like his tennis investigation.
Mark Phillips told the BBC, “There was a core of about 10 players who we believed were the most common perpetrators that were at the root of the problem. The evidence was really strong. There appeared to be a really good chance to nip it in the bud and get a strong deterrent out there to root out the main bad apples.”
BBC Has the Names of Players
This story still could be developing. The BBC and Buzzfeed were passed the names of players whom the TIU has been warned about by betting organizations. These players have had warnings filed about them stretching back to 2003, so this scandal could affect a whole generation of tennis players.
The media sources with the information have chosen not to make the player names public. Without access to bank, phone, and computer account information, the BBC and Buzzfeed News would not be able to confirm players were involved in match-fixing. The media organizations say the Tennis Integrity Unit has the ability to investigate that information.
One reason the whistle blowers have released the information they did was to spur the governing bodies to action, because they seem unwilling to do so on their own initiative. The BBC reported that 8 of the players which were flagged in earlier investigations are set to play in the upcoming Australian Open. Gamblers should beware.
Benn Gunn: “Keeping Things Under Wraps”
Benn Gunn was the investigator whose probes led to the creation of the Tennis Integrity Unit in the first place. He says the TIU appears to have been created as a public relations ploy, but does not “teeth” to conduct real investigations.
Mr. Gunn spoke of the tennis organizations’ actions these past 8 years. He said, “There is an element of actually keeping things under wraps. If they were really serious about dealing with this, then they really need to create an integrity unit with teeth.”
Benn Gunn is not the only one with concerns. The European Sports Security Association monitors suspicious gambling activity for major bookmakers. The ESSA said that tennis is the major pro sport most prone to match fixing. The European Sports Security Association has flagged 50 tennis matches in 2015 alone.
TIU Director Dismisses Concerns
Nigel Willerton, director of the TIU, said he welcomed the support of the sportsbooks and betting exchanges, but they were out of their element trying to police the sport. Willerton said, “it is not the role of betting companies to make judgements about corrupt activity. All credible information received by the TIU is analysed, assessed, and investigated by highly experienced former law-enforcement investigators.”
American and UK Media Continue to Report
Thus, it sounds like the TIU is content to allow the status quo to continue as it is. Whether circumstances will allow the ATP and the TIU to be so sanguine about a brewing scandal is another matter.
From the past, gambling scandals bring a sport into disrepute quicker than any other part of a sport — including doping allegations. With the BBC and other media sources reporting daily on this news, the allegations are unlikely to simply go away. For instance, ESPN’s top shows are reporting on the original BBC story currently.
Mike Greenburg of the Mike & Mike Show tweeted a link to the story and recommended his viewers read the full story, saying of the picture painted by the story, “To say it is ugly is not to do it justice.”
It is a matter of time before the names of the 8 to 10 most suspicious players’ names are made public. When they do, the ATP is likely to find itself rocked to the core.
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