Sport has been rocked by scandal over the past half year and tennis is the latest to fall victim to allegations of match fixing. Winners of singles and doubles titles at the recent Australian Open Grand Slam tournament are among the core group of 16 players who have been reported for losing games when suspicious bets have been placed against them.
Players are being targeted in hotel rooms at major tournaments and offered upwards of £35, 000 per fix by corrupt gamblers. The names of more than 70 players appear on nine lists of suspected fixers who have been flagged by tennis authorities over the past decade without having been penalized once. One top-50 player competing in the Australian Open that recently passed was suspected of repeatedly fixing their first set.
It’s apparent that tennis is a popular betting sport, undoubtedly because of the minimal amount of betting involved, but match fixing has been ideal for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are only two or four people participating and points are much easier to give up if compared to a National Football League game. Usually the game comes down to a few points, and a few points thrown can easily change the result.
Previous rumours about betting fraud have always circulated around typically minor and first round matches. Recently, an investigation by BuzzFeed and the BBC analyzed the betting activity on 26,000 professional matches from 2009 to 2015 and found the field for the year’s first major is littered with suspected match-fixers. The report claims that a minimum of one major singles champion has been involved. Tennis has had just 19 ‘major’ winners – seven men and 12 women. That list would include the likes of Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal and even the world number one, Novak Djokovic. Is it unfair that all the names fans have been accustomed to for several years now are in the spotlight? You bet. But ultimately tennis is getting exactly what it deserves.
This isn’t a shock though, not even a surprise. It was inevitable because tennis has a gambling problem, and its leaders are so tangled up in massive conflicts of interest and so clumsy about public relations that it didn’t do anything about the problem when it was first brought to their attention.
Tennis fans and sports fans across the globe are probably trying to hypothesize this recent theory. They want to try and relate some sort of evidence back to the idea of tennis match fixing.
Five years ago, then-CEO of IMG, Ted Forstmann, admitted to betting on tennis matches, including on his friend and apparent partner at the time, Roger Federer. This would be the first sign that something bizarre was taking place in tennis. Fans are realizing that IMG owned several important tennis tournaments. It is also becoming apparent that IMG is the agent for several big name players. This paints the picture that it’s not just some outside presence but rather something within the sport itself.
In late 2008, tennis set up the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) which has been looking at fraud and has successfully banned six players for life in addition to several other measures. Unfortunately, the TIU has not remained consistent and in subsequent years there have been repeated alerts sent to the TIU about multiple players and none of them were disciplined. The European Sports Security Association, which monitors betting for leading bookmakers, flagged up to 50 suspicious matches for the TIU in 2015, making things only a little suspicious. The organization determined that tennis attracts more suspicious gambling activity than any other sport.
The problem of suspicious betting and match-fixing is not going away. Multiple players, including the ones above, who have repeatedly been flagged by the TIU over the past few years and are due to play in the French Open in State Roland Garros, which begins Saturday May 21.