News 18 January 2016

Analysis: Tennis denies covering up match-fixing

Tennis authorities have denied covering up or failing to fully investigate match-fixing, after the BBC and BuzzFeed alleged that they were ‘repeatedly warned’ about a group of 16 players integrity investigators suspected of being involved. The 16 players apparently include winners of singles and doubles titles at Grand Slam tournaments, and half of them are due to compete at the Australian Open, which starts today, including one top-50 player.

Investigators involved in a 2008 probe into a 2007 Poland Open match between Nikolay Davydenko (pictured) and Martín Vassallo Arguello in Sopot told the news organisations that tennis had failed to take action. “They could have got rid of a network of players that would have almost completely cleared the sport up”, Mark Phillips, one of the investigators, told BuzzFeed. “We gave them everything tied up with a nice pink bow on top and they took no action at all”.

Among the evidence obtained by BBC and BuzzFeed is an investigation into the 2007 Sopot match (PDF below), which found that 28 players should be investigated. However, at that time, tennis did not have sufficient integrity rules in place to take action against the accused. In January 2008, it commissioned integrity experts Jeffrey Rees and Ben Gunn to create a ‘common set of integrity rules, procedures and sanctions’, policed by an ‘integrity unit’ for professional tennis. The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) was established in September 2008.

However, it is understood that tennis took a decision to draw a line under the report, as lawyers had advised tennis authorities that the new rules couldn’t be introduced retrospectively. “As a result, no new investigations into any of the players who were mentioned in the 2008 report were opened”, The TIU’s Director of Integrity, Nigel Willerton, told the BBC and BuzzFeed.

The BBC reports that the TIU was sent repeated alerts relating to about a third of the 28 players identified in the 2008 report, and BuzzFeed reports that ESSA sent four alerts to the TIU about a particular player, warning of his ‘relentless abuse’. The accusation made by the BBC and BuzzFeed is that despite repeated warnings about the same players since the 2008 report, tennis has failed to take any action.

Tennis has continually dominated the number of suspicious betting alerts reported to ESSA by its bookmaker members, as reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative in October. ‘During 2015, whilst tennis constituted the largest proportion of suspicious betting alerts identified by ESSA members, it should be noted that the vast majority of tennis events are fair’, read a statement emailed by ESSA. ‘As the industry body that represents many of the major regulated gambling companies on sports betting integrity matters, ESSA has been passing on any suspicious betting alerts to the tennis integrity team and cooperating as appropriate in providing relevant evidence’.

Davydenko and Arguello were later cleared of fixing the match, which Davydenko withdrew from due to injury. However, as previously stated, tennis did not have an anti-corruption code in place at that time. Betfair refused to settle its wagers on the match due to the sheer amount of money placed on Arguello, despite Davydenko being a heavy favourite before the match. Betfair said that almost £4 million was wagered on the match, one fifth of which came from nine Moscow accounts that were traced back to the same group of computers.

‘In almost 20 years of working in the gambling industry, as an on-course bookmaker, an odds compiler/trader and as a betting investigator, I have never seen a match or race where so much of the money wagered was done at such unrealistic odds and by linked accounts’, read a statement (PDF below) provided by Mark Phillips, a Betting Investigator from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) that headed the investigation.

The BBC and BuzzFeed decided not to name the players involved, as without access to their bank and telephone records, it is not possible to determine whether they were personally involved. For example, Davydenko argued that he may have tipped off bettors by taking about his injury ahead of the tournament. Other sports have faced instances where bettors have profited from the use of such inside information without that information having been deliberately passed on for betting purposes.

’The Tennis Integrity Unit and the tennis authorities absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match fixing has been suppressed for any reason’, read a statement issued by tennis authorities. ‘In its investigations, the Tennis Integrity Unit has to find evidence as opposed to information, suspicion or hearsay’.

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