News 10 February 2016

Tennis disqualified two corrupt umpires last year

Tennis authorities have confirmed that they disqualified two corrupt umpires, after a newspaper investigation uncovered the bans and found that four more umpires are facing bans for delaying the reporting of points on the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) Futures Tournament. The Guardian alleged that the umpires had taken bribes from international betting syndicates to delay the reporting of points, allowing the syndicates to place in-play bets on the next points before bookmakers received the score and adjusted their odds accordingly.

‘Kirill Parfenov of Kazakhstan was decertified for life in February 2015 for contacting another official on Facebook in an attempt to manipulate the scoring of matches’, read a joint statement issued by the ITF and the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) via email. ‘Separately, Denis Pitner of Croatia had his certification suspended on 1 August 2015 for 12 months for sending information on the physical well-being of a player to a coach during a tournament and regularly logging on to a betting account from which bets were placed on tennis matches’.

The tennis authorities explained that they did not report the sanctions because they took place in 2015, before the ITF amended its rules to allow public reporting of sanctions issued to officials. The statement explained that the ITF Code of Conduct for Officials, which was used to sanction the two umpires, did not allow ‘public dissemination’ of sanctions issued to officials. ‘However, the ITF amended the Code in December 2015 to ensure public reporting of official sanctions from 2016 onwards’.

The statement also explained that four other officials are currently suspended pending the completion of ongoing investigations by the TIU, but said that details would not be released due to concerns over prejudicing the outcome of those investigations. ‘Should any official be found guilty of an offence, it will be announced publicly’, it read.

The ITF signed a deal for Sportradar to become its official data partner in 2012. ‘The ITF and Sportradar will begin to cooperate in 2012 to assure the supply of live data from selected ITF tournaments to media outlets, the betting industry and any other interested parties’, reads a statement. ‘The agreement will also allow the ITF to expand the range of its events offering live scoring services. The ITF believes that the distribution of ITF Official Data will support integrity measures by helping to eliminate the unauthorised collection, dissemination and use of official or erroneous data and the presence of unofficial data collectors at ITF events. The supply of ITF Official Data will further support integrity measures by creating a framework for more extensive information exchange and cooperation with the legal gambling industry.’

Umpires were put in charge of immediately updating the scorecard for smaller tournaments using official IBM tablet computers. However, according to The Guardian, the umpires concerned colluded with gambling syndicates to deliberately delay updating the scores for up to 60 seconds. This allowed the gamblers to place bets knowing the outcome of an in-play score before the betting markets had a chance to adjust their odds accordingly. The Guardian alleges that in some cases, the umpires texted the gamblers before updating the score on their computer.

Editor’s comment…

Such a practice is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Whilst visiting the Press Association’s (PA), Howden offices ten years ago, I enquired why newspapers had been placed over the windows of a certain part of the open-plan office. That section of the office was responsible for relaying scores to betting companies. Employees had apparently figured out that there was a delay of a few seconds between the scores being received on the PA system, and the scores being relayed to the bookmakers. The newspapers were to discourage temptation.

The Guardian’s investigation suggests that the tennis authorities may have sought to cover up the sanctions against the umpires for fears about damage to the sport’s reputation. The response from the tennis authorities suggests that covering up sanctions against umpires was ingrained into tennis’ rules. Whether that was intentional or not is a matter for debate.

The tennis authorities have already announced that they will undertake an independent review of how the TIU can be more transparent without compromising integrity, led by Adam Lewis QC. However, Lewis has acted for the tennis authorities in the past, as illustrated by his biography, leading some to question the true independence of the review. These latest revelations will fuel the argument that independent oversight is needed, as sport doesn’t have the ability to both promote itself and protect itself against corruption.

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