Tennis: ‘a player deliberately losing is fairly good at hiding it’

A very suspicious match at an ATP Challenger last year in the U. S. provided some comical scenes on the replay. It is simply astounding how the player in question is still on the circuit as the betting markets could tell you exactly what the player was about to do.

There is a lot of participation in the ITF and Futures circuits in India, but the Association has to step in to look after the players.   -  S. SIVA SARAVANAN

In this concluding part, Scott Ferguson, former 'head of education' at Betfair, speaks on the way forward for tennis.

Excerpts:

Is the biggest part of the problem the reluctance to publicly accept that there is a problem?

Admitting there is a problem is always the first step toward fixing it.

There has been an increased push by the United States Tennis Association to televise or capture on video lower-rung matches. Will this help in retrospective analysis? Is this feasible?

A GoPro (action camera) tied to the fence would be a start. It doesn’t need high production standards and live commentary. This already takes place at quite a few ITF events. Vision always helps with an investigation. It might find nothing, but it also might provide vital clues.

A very suspicious match at an ATP Challenger last year in the U. S. provided some comical scenes on the replay. It is simply astounding how the player in question is still on the circuit as the betting markets could tell you exactly what the player was about to do.

Generally, a player deliberately losing a match is fairly good at hiding it. Any decent amateur player will understand how easy it is to have a day where your range is continually out by mere centimetres.

Is more prize money at the lower rungs a part of the solution? The ATP maintains that the Challenger and Futures are “developmental tours” and not a place for players to stay put for their entire careers.

I understand that logic entirely but it’s not working too well. Since the 1980s when these ‘developmental’ tours were set up, they have barely increased prize money while the top tier has exploded in value like London real estate. If they want them to be true ‘developmental’ tours, then restrict them to under-23s or restrict eligibility at that level to five years.

India is way down the pecking order in tennis. But there is a big pool of youngsters playing at the Futures and Challengers. How do we see to it that players don’t fall for money as more and more countries – most of them developing – start playing?

For youngsters, support from their national body is crucial. The lower tiers are lonely places and the bills stack up very quickly. Head out on your own, you start eating poorly, cut corners on accommodation and training, you start meeting people you wouldn’t normally mix with and that’s where it all begins. 

Of course, the worst example to set youngsters (or any players) is to have them report to an organisation which is rife with corruption. How can football dignitaries genuinely lecture players about the evils of match-fixing when FIFA and numerous national bodies are rotten to the core with corruption? This is not meant to make any judgement on Indian tennis as I’ve no idea what they are like internally. But you cannot have administrators preaching ‘do as I say’ rather than ‘do as I do’.

And get the message out there early -- at junior levels before they hit the wider tour and their matches can be gambled on. I believe the TIU may have recently started doing this.

What are the systems that you, if given a chance, will put in place?

Tennis authorities forbid players from declaring injury information to anyone other than ‘everyone’, trying to negate the value of inside information. But insiders will know unless it has been mentioned in a press conference. Nice idea but badly executed. Go the other way, force players to declare the information publicly. In U. S. sports, there is full transparency. Teams are penalised for hiding information. When a key injury is declared, the public can see the information, bookmakers factor it into their odds and there is no secrecy or suspicion.

As mentioned earlier, the TIU (or an outside body replacing them) should invest heavily in data and analytics. Ideally a World Anti Corruption Body would be set up to monitor and investigate multiple sports, taking it out of the hands of ex-players who laugh it off and don’t take it seriously enough. There are smaller organisations already out there doing this privately -- SportRadar, ESSA, Federbet. Their involvement could be greater.

Transparency and an admission there is a problem from the governing bodies, early (and regular) education of players, more regular presence at tournaments, at all levels.

Is there a whistleblower's phone line? Are they capable of protecting the identity of those who do report suspicious activity?

Declare an amnesty for all players to report everything. Once that expires, any unreported incidents are severely dealt with.