An investigation by BuzzFeed News and the BBC claimed to expose widespread match-fixing in tennis centered on 16 players who have been ranked among the world's top 50. At least eight were included in the main draw at the 2016 Australian Open, according to Heidi Blake and John Templon of BuzzFeed News.
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Gambling Watchdog Uncovers Suspicious Tennis Activity
Thursday, Feb. 18
Ed Aarons of the Guardian wrote:
The extent of potential corruption in tennis is under scrutiny once more after a leading sports gambling watchdog stated that 73 matches suspected of suspicious betting activity were reported to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) in 2015—more than three times the number of incidents involving any other sports.
Croatian Legend Ivanisevic Calls for Proof
Wednesday, Jan. 27
"Maybe I am going to have a date with Angelina Jolie. Maybe not," former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic said, per Reuters (via Eurosport).
"How can you say maybe? It's a serious thing, worse than taking drugs, worse than killing somebody. Don't give me a maybe, don't give me the mathematics, give me proof."
Anti-Corruption Group to Be Reviewed
Tuesday, Jan. 26
Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press reported "tennis' governing bodies are going to set up an independent review of the sport's anti-corruption group in response to reports of match fixing."
Executive Chairman and President of the ATP Chris Kermode said the speed of tennis' seven bodies collaborating together on the investigation is "unprecedented," per Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times.
Hewitt Responds to Match-Fixing Accusations
Thursday, Jan. 21
"I think it's a joke to deal with it. Obviously, there's no possible way. I know my name's now been thrown into it," Lleyton Hewitt commented, per the Guardian, after being tied to the match-fixing controversy.
"I don't think anyone here would think that I've done anything [like] corruption or match-fixing. It's just absurd," he added. Yeah, it's disappointing. I think throwing my name out there with it makes the whole thing an absolute farce."
Murray Increases Scrutiny on Tennis' Governing Bodies
Tuesday, Jan. 19
“I think it’s a little bit hypocritical, really. I don’t believe the players are allowed to be sponsored by betting companies but then the tournaments are," British No. 1 Andy Murray said, per Guardian Sport, adding: "I don’t really understand how it all works. I think it’s a bit strange.”
I just think it should be tennis that does a better job of explaining [the risks of match-fixing]. They [young players] shouldn’t have to read it in the press, you have to be proactive and go and speak to the players rather than them reading about it in the newspapers or listening to it on the TV or the radio. The more proactive you are in educating young players the better in matters like this.
Federer Challenges Investigators at Center of Match-Fixing Storm
Monday, Jan. 18
"I would like to hear the name. I would love to hear names [involved in the investigation]. Then at least it's concrete stuff and you can actually debate about it," said 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, per Neil McLeman of the Mirror.
"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," Federer added.
Djokovic Reveals $200,000 Offer
Monday, Jan. 18
"I was not approached directly. Well...I was approached through people that were working with me at that time, that were with my team," world No. 1 Novak Djokovic said, per Kevin Mitchell of the Guardian, adding: "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."
Governing Bodies Deny Cover-Up
Monday, Jan. 18
Tennis' governing bodies were repeatedly made aware of certain players deliberately throwing matches at major tournaments, including Wimbledon, to benefit "corrupt gamblers" betting against them, according to BuzzFeed News' Jessica Garrison.
But the players were allowed to continue competing.
A group including the ATP, WTA, Australian Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open and more released a joint statement rejecting the claim that evidence was suppressed.
Per Christopher Clarey of the New York Times, Kermode was vehement in his response to the allegations: "The [Tennis Integrity Unit] and tennis authorities absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match-fixing has been suppressed."
"[For the TIU to act, they] have to find evidence, not information or hearsay," added Kermode, per Rothenberg.
Match-Fixing Claims Have Dotted Tennis' Past
This isn't the first time the specter of match-fixing has haunted the sport of tennis. Rothenberg is all too familiar with the subject:
I had a match fixer tell me to tune into a challenger match this fall where he knew the second set score was going to be 6-0. Sure enough…— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 17, 2016
…all that is to say, duh that match/spot fixing happens. Today's main news is that TIU is still toothless as all heck…which we knew?…— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 17, 2016
"I know it does go on, that players are approached," said former tennis player Barry Cowan to BBC Radio Five Live in 2007 (h/t the Guardian). "There have been cases where people have approached players and said 'I'll give you x -amount of money to throw this match'. It goes on at ATP and Challenger level where if you lose in the first round you only get $225."
"I could be a multimillionaire—if I chose to be," said an anonymous ATP player in a 2007 interview with Greg Garber of ESPN.com. "You see everything that happens in the locker room and it has a direct result on the court. I'm sure [fixing] happens. It 's too easy. To be honest, I don't know how anyone could find out about it."
In March 2014, Louisa Thomas wrote an article for Grantland, asking, "Is tennis vulnerable to a major match-fixing scandal?" Thomas downplayed match-fixing as a systemic issue in the sport, since she found only a small amount of matches were affected. She acknowledged the financial disparity between the top stars in the game and everyone else was a major problem, though:
If tennis actually is "vulnerable," it's because the sport really fair. The total prize money for the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells is $5,030,402. The total purse for the Kazan Challenger, in Russia, which is also being played this week, is $75,000. At Futures Tournaments, it can be $10,000. That number is split among all entrants; the winner takes a few hundred dollars. (The total prize money for the Australian Open was $33 million.) Professional players sometimes struggle to pay for dinner, let alone coaches and plane tickets.
Thomas mentioned an August 2007 match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello at the Orange Prokom Open in which Arguello won in three sets after Davydenko retired.
Investigating the match for ESPN's Outside the Lines, John Barr and William Weinbaum reported bettors wagered $7 million on the match with British sportsbook Betfair. Many bet against Davydenko despite the fact he was the heavy favorite and defending champion in the tournament.
In September 2008, the ATP cleared Davydenko of having intentionally lost the match.
Blake and Templon devoted a section of their report on Davydenko and Arguello, and they highlighted damning evidence of likely match-fixing:
The tennis authorities announced at the end of the investigation that they had found no evidence of rule -breaking by Vassallo Arguello or Davydenko. But the files reveal that Vassallo Arguello had exchanged 82 text messages at a previous tournament with the suspected ringleader of an Italian gambling syndicate that made hundreds of thousands of pounds betting on his other matches . Inquiries into the Russian gamblers who placed suspicious bets on Davydenko stalled when one threatened violence . These Italian and Russian gambling syndicates and another in Sicily were found to have placed suspicious bets on 72 matches involving the 28 players that the investigators flagged to the authorities.
They also reported Davydenko refused to hand over his personal phone during the ATP's investigation, and by the time he gave his call records to investigators, they were unable to find anything of value. Aruguello's phone, on the other hand, offered more evidence against the two players:
The first was a mobile number stored under the name Davydenko – which was curious because the Russian had said he and his opponent did not know each other. The rest of the discoveries were about matches that had nothing to do with Davydenko and, the investigators felt sure, would "form the basis for future investigations concerning this player."
The detectives found that Vassallo Arguello had the numbers of several Italian Betfair account holders in his phone memory. The investigators sent the phone for forensic examination, which revealed texts messages that the Argentine had deleted. Experts were able to recover the first few words of each of them.
The reporting by Blake and Templon offers a thorough look at the finer details that often reveal what is likely to be a tennis match with a fixed outcome.
Even if a minute portion of matches among the thousands in a given year are fixed, it is bound to create skepticism about the integrity of the sport. And the alleged problem is unlikely to dissipate until the financial gap between those at the top and the bottom of the playing hierarchy closes.