Tennis has been rocked this week by the release of secret files which expose evidence of widespread match-fixing at the top of the game. Previously, it had been thought that match-fixing in tennis was contained within smaller events, carried out by lower-ranked players who earn little money from the game itself, but the new evidence suggests that matches at major tournaments, including at Wimbledon, have been deliberately thrown.
The files were passed to the BBC and Buzzfeed by a group of anonymous whistle-blowers from inside the game, and reveal that, in 2008, 28 top-level players were named as being suspected of match-fixing in a report to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU). All the players implicated were allowed to continue competing, with the accusations never being followed up, which has raised questions over the usefulness of the TIU. Some have accused the sports governing body, the ATP, of brushing the evidence under the carpet so that the reputation of the sport wasn’t tarnished.
Chris Kermode, head of the ATP, roundly rejected this accusation, stating that “no information has been suppressed for any reason or isn’t being thoroughly investigated”, though he did add that the ATP would “investigate any new information.”
One betting investigator who was part of the enquiry that led to the 2008 report, Mark Phillips, has revealed that there was a “core of about 10 players that were at the root of the problem”, with regular suspicious betting activity taking place around their matches. The files contained powerful evidence implicating the group, and revealed that there were a handful of betting syndicates making six-figure sums betting on matches involving the group. Phillips believed that the evidence was strong enough to “nip it in the bud and get a strong deterrent out there to root out the main bad apples”, making the ATP’s inaction all the more frustrating.
Buzzfeed and the BBC have decided not to name the players involved in the scandal, as without access to their phone and banking records, they cannot be certain that all the players are guilty, despite the strong evidence against them. The TIU does have the power to demand this information from the players however, although it is uncertain whether it will do so.
As the scandal broke on the eve of the Australian Open, there were mixed reactions from tennis’s big hitters. Andy Murray said that the sport needed to do more to educate young players on the dangers of match fixing, saying that a bad decision made as a teenager “can affect your career, can affect the whole sport”. 10-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic stated that there was “no real evidence” of significant match-fixing at the top level of tennis, later branding an allegation that he had deliberately thrown a match in 2007 as “absurd”.
Tennis officials have criticized the timing of the release of the report, coming as it has just before the first grand slam event of 2016, but critics would argue that this is just another example of the governing body getting their priorities in the wrong order, and not taking the threat of match-fixing seriously enough. With 8 players implicated in the report competing at this week’s Australian Open, it appears difficult to argue with that.