The ball is in ATP’s court to deal with claims of match-fixing
Officials must heed the experience of other sports tainted by corruption as a result of failure to act until evidence leaves no alternative
After exposure of a doping cover-up in international athletics and multiple corruption scandals at world soccer’s governing body Fifa, sports fans were looking forward to the first grand-slam tennis tournament of 2016 for clean and fair competition at the top level. Tantrums such as racket and umpire abuse aside, the elite tennis circuit is not readily associated with underhand conduct.
But the current Australian Open in Melbourne, where Li Na became the first Chinese to win a grand slam title two years ago, has been rocked by allegations that the game’s authorities have failed to deal with suspicions of widespread match-fixing. The BBC and online BuzzFeed News, citing documents including an investigation in 2007 by the Association of Tennis Professionals, said 16 players who had been ranked in the top 50 had been repeatedly flagged to the tennis integrity unit over allegations they had thrown matches in the past decade. But the TIU, set up to police illegal activity in tennis, had either failed to act or impose any sanctions. Eight were playing in the Australian Open.
The claims have been backed up by anecdotal evidence from world No 1 Novak Djokovic, who said he was once offered US$200,000 to fix a match in Russia. Chris Eaton, director of integrity at the International Centre for Sport Security, says betting on multiple matches, especially in eastern Europe and Russia, creates a powerful incentive to fix matches – easy to do with many poorly paid players at the lower tiers of competition.
That said, it is good to hear from Eaton that betting analysis did not uncover manipulation of matches at the top level, and to hear ATP chairman Chris Kermode reject any suggestion that evidence of match-fixing has been suppressed or not thoroughly investigated. But given the commercial value of the universal appeal of tennis as sport entertainment, the authorities would be wise to heed the experience of cycling, athletics and soccer, to name three sports tarnished by doping and match-fixing as a result of a failure to act until evidence leaves no alternative.