Players, past and present, want names of match-fixers

Many called for clarity, saying the public and players have a right to know who is suspected of cheating. Others warned that the match-fixing scandal has the potential to damage the reputation of tennis, just like doping or corruption scandals have hurt professional cycling, athletics, baseball and soccer.

Martina Navratilova tweeted on the match-fixing scandal that shook the tennis world: “We need facts, not suppositions.”   -  Getty Images

Chris Evert... “We as tennis players have always been so proud about the integrity of our sport. Hopefully, the truth will come out.”   -  Getty Images

Around the world, players, commentators and fans echoed the call of Roger Federer, who wants to know names of those suspected of match-fixing in a growing scandal that one ex-pro described as a “major wake-up call for the world of tennis.”

Many called for clarity, saying the public and players have a right to know who is suspected of cheating. Others warned that the match-fixing scandal has the potential to damage the reputation of tennis, just like doping or corruption scandals have hurt professional cycling, athletics, baseball and soccer.

Martina Navratilova, the 18-time Grand Slam champion, tweeted: “We need facts, not suppositions.”

The scandal broke on January 18 when the BBC and BuzzFeed News published reports, timed for the start of the Australian Open, alleging that tennis authorities have ignored widespread evidence of match-fixing involving 16 players who have ranked in the top 50 over the past decade.

BuzzFeed titled its story ‘The Tennis Racket’, and said that half of those 16, including a Grand Slam winner, were at this year’s Australian Open.

‘A very dark shadow’

“This really casts a very dark shadow on our sport right now,” Mary Jo Fernandez said on ESPN, as part of a panel discussion on Wednesday on the controversy.

“Hopefully because the world is watching, something will be done about it. We need to flag who these players were,” said Fernandez, a three-time Grand Slam finalist, winner of two Grand Slam women’s doubles titles and two Olympic gold medals.

Federer was among the first to demand more information: “I would love to hear names,” the Swiss star said on January 19 at a post-match news conference. His comments have resonated with those who say not knowing leads to dangerous speculation.

“This is turning into a witch hunt,” said Patrick McEnroe, a former French Open doubles champion and captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team who was in Melbourne commentating.

Until now, the average fan may have had little idea that tennis is one of the most gambled on sports in the world, with bookmakers actively taking bets mid-match. Between matches at the Australian Open, tennis experts have explained the mechanics of match-fixing, spelling out that it doesn’t necessarily mean throwing an entire match, but could involve taking money just to double-fault or lose a set.

“We knew in the tennis world this was happening at the lower levels of tennis, the equivalent of minor league baseball, now we’re hearing a little bit more,” McEnroe said.

‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire’

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. This is a major, major wake-up call for the world of tennis.”

The BBC and BuzzFeed report prompted an immediate news conference by tennis’ governing bodies in Melbourne Park, where representatives denied allegations that any evidence about match-fixing had been suppressed.

 

Officials noted that the sport’s anti-corruption division, the Tennis Integrity Unit, has pursued 18 disciplinary cases that resulted in life bans from the sport for five players and one official. It was set up in 2008, after a surge of suspicious betting activity in tennis.

The problem for investigators, they said, is that match-fixing is very difficult to prove.

Evert very sad about the scandal

Many fans have also been shocked to learn that some of the sport’s top players have been approached and offered big money to throw matches.

Novak Djokovic confirmed earlier in the week he was offered money to intentionally throw a match. He said that he was not directly approached but members of his support team were offered the money in Russia in 2007, an offer the player said was immediately rejected.

During a break in commentating for ESPN, Christ Evert said the scandal had deeply affected her.

“I have been so sad about this the last few days,” the 18-time Grand Slam winner said. “We as tennis players have always been so proud about the integrity of our sport. Hopefully, the truth will come out.”

‘Truth is bound to come out’

Andy Roddick thinks it will. The 2003 U.S. Open winner tweeted that he and another retired pro have been engaged in a guessing game: “Text I got from another former tour pro ‘we should see how many of the 16 betting guys we can name.’ I think I got at least 8-9.”

It’s bound to come out, Roddick said in another tweet: “In the age of leaks and social media, I don’t think secrets exist.”

Match-fixing is commonplace in tennis’ lower levels and efforts to fight it are inadequate, a senior anti-corruption official said. Chris Eaton of the International

Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) criticised tennis’ “opaque and secretive” anti-corruption body.

Lower levels are the target

Eaton, the director of integrity at the ICSS, said professional betting analysis showed “nil manipulation” of matches at the top levels of tennis, where players are highly paid and less susceptible to bribery.

“However in the second and lower levels, manipulation indicators are heavy and regularly occurring,” the former FIFA security chief said via email.

“We are not the only sport integrity organisation to observe this.”

Eaton said tennis was the third most popular sport, behind football and cricket, for betting worldwide “and as a direct consequence it is third in the magnitude of identified suspicious matches”.

“Tennis is not as lucrative for fixing as football or cricket. But it takes less corruptive effort to fix individual outcomes in a tennis match, so the frequency of winning on a single match can be vastly higher than in cricket and football,” he said.

Eaton also hit out at the “poor choice of structure and process” for the Tennis Integrity Unit, saying it needs to be more open and relies too much on betting analysis, rather than field investigations.

“Integrity is by definition open and transparent. The TIU is neither... by operating in the shadows they fail to practise what they preach,” he said, calling for a “new independent and integrated integrity model.

“If not, then tennis will continue to be targeted at its most vulnerable levels, and as intimidated or compromised players and others advance they bring that vulnerability with them.”