SII Focus 21st January 2016

TIU cannot reveal if it is investigating new allegations

A confidentiality clause in the Tennis Anti-Corruption Programme (TACP) prevents the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) from revealing whether it is investigating any new match-fixing allegations made since the BBC and BuzzFeed alleged that it has been ‘repeatedly warned’ about a core group of 16 players. Since the 17 January report, a number players have told the media that they were approached to fix games (details to follow).

“The TIU never confirms details of its investigative activities”, said a TIU spokesperson. “The TIU estimates that most, if not all, of the 18 successful corruption charges laid since 2010 would not have been achieved without the ability to work in confidence”. The Ethics Commission of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had a similar clause in place maintaining confidentiality, however it was relaxed on 6 November last year, to ‘allow the IAAF Independent Ethics Board to acknowledge the existence of proceedings currently before it and to comment on their current status without divulging details of the case’. Similar rules are in place regarding FIFA Ethics Committee, which can comment on the status of a case but not its details until a sanction is announced.

Such a provision is not in place at the TIU. Article F 2(c) of the TACP (PDF below) reads: ‘Any information furnished to the TIU shall be (i) kept confidential except when it becomes necessary to disclose such information in furtherance of the prosecution of a Corruption Offense, or when such information is reported to administrative, professional, or judicial authorities pursuant to an investigation or prosecution of non-sporting laws or regulations and (ii) used solely for the purposes of the investigation and prosecution of a Corruption Offense’.

The TIU spokesperson said that in practice, this “protects innocent players from speculation and inference about unproven involvement in corrupt activity; avoids giving notice to persons of interest who may be the subject of ongoing or future investigations; encourages witnesses to give testimony at anti-corruption hearings in the knowledge that they will not be identified and subject to possible repercussions. The TIU believe these are important factors in players coming forward with information”. Under Article D 2 of the TACP, reporting a suspicious approach is obligatory, however “the prospect of public identification in a corruption investigation may be a disincentive for some”, adds the spokesperson.

New allegations from players

The Sports Integrity Initiative had asked the TIU whether it would be investigating a number of allegations of corrupt approaches by players, who appear to have been vocal in detailing to the media. This morning, The Times reported that British players have taken money from betting rings in exchange for inside information on competitors.

On the first day of the Australian Open, a day after the BBC/BuzzFeed report, world number one Novak Djokovic explained how he had been offered US$200,000 to throw a first-round match in St. Petersburg in 2006. “I was not approached directly”, he said, reported The Guardian. “Well…I was approached through people that were working with me at that time, that were with my team. Of course, we threw it away right away. It didn’t even get to me, the guy that was trying to talk to me, he didn’t even get to me directly. There was nothing out of it. Unfortunately there were some, in those times, those days, rumours, some talks, some people were going around. They were dealt with. In the last six, seven years, I haven’t heard anything similar. I personally was never approached directly, so I have nothing more to say about that.”

Djokovic described corruption as an “act of unsportsmanship, a crime in sport honesty”. He attributes his positive experience to being “surrounded with people that had nurtured and, you know, respected the sport’s values”.

Daniel Köllerer, a former Austrian tennis professional given a lifetime ban in 2011 for match fixing, told BBC Radio 4 that many players had been approached to fix matches. He claimed that he was offered money to fix matches on three occasions and reported these approaches to the TIU. He denies claims from other players that he asked them to fix games, but admits that he was offered money to lose, which he says he turned down.

Arvind Parmar, a former Brititish professional tennis player wrote in The Times that he was not surprised to read about allegations of match-fixing, as he had been offered money to lose a match. He writes that he was offered an ‘envelope full of Euros to lose in two sets’ only an hour before a match was due to start, but refused to accept. He notes that players on the Challenger circuit are vulnerable, and many are struggling financially. Parma writes that he was approached in 2004, when there was no TIU to report to.

It is not just older players reporting approaches from the pre-TACP days. Up-and-coming 19-year-old Australian tennis player, Thanasi Kokkinakis, told 3AW that he had been approached by match-fixers via social media. “Not face-to-face, but on social media you read some stuff on your Facebook page, just these randoms from nowhere saying ‘I’ll pay you this much to tank the game’”, he told the radio station, reported ABC News. “It’s interesting, you get a lot of stuff if you lose a match that maybe the bettors or something think you should win. You just get abused on social media. It’s a very common thing. For tennis players, and I’d assume other sports, it’s a very common thing. You just try and block it away and there’s no time for that in this sport.”

The BBC Radio 4 programme (below) also involved an interview with a retired Latin American player, who insisted on anonymity. He said that the tennis authorities “know who is doing it” but are unwilling to stop it. When asked about the way that matches are fixed, the player said there are “three big groups” who control tennis betting and that players are paid in cash. He goes on to say that “At the end, it’s huge money. It’s really big.”

“[I]t’s like a secret in the tour that everyone knows but we don’t talk about it, we just see it and keep walking”, a former Tour professional and current coach, under the pseudonym of Frank, told BBC Radio 4. “You know who is doing it and who is not”.

Top players

With the notable exception of Djokovic, most of tennis’ elite have not been approached. This isn’t surprising. After all, it is likely to be much easier to corrupt an ageing, lower ranked player whose earnings are small rather than a rising star or top-ranked player.

In a December 2014 study (PDF below) by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and Kingston University, it was shown that 45% of the 13,736 players in the sport earned next to nothing from the game and tennis only covered about 10% of their costs. It also found that for players ranked between 251 and 500, their total annual earnings averaged £11,200 and the average annual cost of playing the game – including travel, food and accommodation – was £27,100 for men and £28,100 for women.

This discrepancy was acknowledged by current world number two, Andy Murray in a 2007 interview. “There are some guys who have to come to tournaments every single week and out of their first-round loser’s cheque – about €2,500 – they have to pay for their air fares”, he told BBC Radio 5 Live. “A career lasts probably only 10 or 12 years and you have to make all your money while you’re still playing […] It is pretty disappointing for all the players, but everyone knows it goes on.”

Murray simply tweeted the BuzzFeed story:

Serena Williams, ranked world number one, has said that she had not been exposed to match-fixing, not had she any knowledge of its existence in the sport.

American former World No.1, Andy Roddick, was particularly vocal on Twitter:

He even took a humorous approach, admitting that in some instances he was just playing very badly:

He also stated that there was “no chance” Roger Federer was involved in any of the allegations and that any player who accepts money to fix a match does not have a “moral compass”. Federer, a seventeen-time Grand Slam winner, has said that he would love to know who has been implicated in the report, and called for those tennis players who are allegedly involved in match-fixing to be named.

Given the amounts allegedly offered to players whose potential earnings are low, it is perhaps surprising that more corruption has not been unearthed. It is often easy to forget, that outside of the international stars, may players struggle to even break-even, as this analysis shows. It also must be noted that given the fact that tennis is an individual sport, players must often fund themselves. There are often no contracts, therefore if a player becomes injured, they simply will not make any money.

TIU investigations

Since 2010, the TIU has concluded just 18 corruption charges against players, however due to that pesky confidentiality clause, it is impossible to see how many more cases it is investigating. As the IAAF debacle has shown, such investigations can go on for many years. Just ask FIFA – a Swiss investigation into payments made by International Sports & Leisure (ISL) to senior FIFA Executives to allegedly secure World Cup TV contracts went on for four years, and investigations into ISL are still ongoing today, more than ten years later.

Allegations of fixing in tennis certainly go back some way. In 2011, Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet alleged that 41 players were on a tennis ‘blacklist’. It said that in the case of 20 of these names (14 men and six women), suspicions of fraud had been so strong that an investigation had taken place. A further 21 players were on a ‘warning list’. Suspicious alerts are not, in themselves, proof that anything is amiss, yet despite tennis’ protestations, it is significant that the BBC and BuzzFeed reported that many players have been continually flagged.

It is understood that whilst match-fixing has always been prohibited by the tennis authorities, there was no unified process in place for sanctioning players prior to 2008 – each tennis authority had differing rules. Jeffrey Rees and Ben Gunn were appointed by the tennis authorities in January 2008 to create a ‘common set of integrity rules, procedures and sanctions’, policed by an ‘integrity unit’. This was established in September 2008.

The BBC Radio 4 programme made much of the fact that when the TIU was established in 2008, it was recommended that a unit with six investigators and a gambling analyst be established. However tennis opted for a smaller unit of just two staff. This has been attributed as a reason that the alleged problems exist in tennis. Damian Collins, MP and founder of NewFIFANow attributed tennis’ issue to a wider trend of sports being poorly resourced to fight corruption:

“There is an element of keeping things under wraps”, said Ben Gunn, a former police investigator appointed to the TIU in 2008 in the BBC Radio 4 programme. “Nobody likes doing their dirty washing in public”. Gunn said that he felt that there were suspicious games “going back a number of years”, however they couldn’t be investigated as the TIU didn’t have the resources to do so.

Chris Kermode, CEO of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), told BBC Radio 4 that the decision to go with the smaller TIU was a “judgment call”. Following the BBC/BuzzFeed report, tennis authorities immediately released a statement denying that match-fixing had been suppressed in any way. Kermode said there “is no new evidence” and rejects that match-fixing was ignored by officials after the 2008 investigation into corruption:

However, a former professional player from Spain told the BBC that the situation today is far worse than five years ago. “They first contact the people around the players to get information about them”. He said that if players refuse to cooperate, threats are made. “The players are threatened because they tell you to be careful with your family, your coach, your friends […] Until organised crime do something to a player, the ITF or ATP won’t change anything.”

What’s next?

It has been reported that the UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will announce an inquiry into the allegations, however no action has been announced to date. As explained, the rules of the TACP prevent tennis from announcing any new investigation at all. Herein lies the problem.

During the last 12 months, the media spotlight has swung from allegations of corruption within FIFA to the IAAF, and now it has swung in the direction of tennis. FIFA’s rules allow it to report that it is investigating a situation, and the IAAF has changed its rules to allow it to also report on the progress of investigations. Tennis has yet to take this leap.

“It’s a very secretive unit”, Richard Ings, who ran tennis’ first integrity programme ahead of the establishment of the TIU, told the BBC. “We don’t know its structure, we don’t know its resourcing, we don’t know what it’s investigating and when it does find violations, the information that’s disclosed is so minimal that we really can’t get a handle on how exactly it’s operating or what it’s doing”. Until it can report on the progress of its investigations, the silence of the TIU will remain deafening.

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