On the eve of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam event of the year, the tennis world has been rocked by allegations of match fixing on a major scale, involving players near the very pinnacle of the sport. As a result, the integrity of the sport for punters has been dramatically called into question, as has the apparent inaction of the game’s governing bodies.
A joint investigation by Buzzfeed and the BBC has found what it believes to be compelling evidence of widespread corruption and match fixing controlled by organised crime syndicates from Italy and Russia. The investigators allege that matches at many of the world’s leading tournaments, including Wimbledon, have been fixed over the last ten years or so in order for enormous betting coups to be carried out.
There are 16 players who are alleged to have been involved at some level in the rigging of matches, most of whom are or have ranked been in the top 50 and, according to Heidi Blake, Buzzfeed’s UK Investigations Editor, about half of whom are set to take part in this week’s Australian Open. It is reported that the players under scrutiny include winners of Grand Slam titles.
These 16 players, it is reported, have repeatedly been brought to the attention of the Tennis Integrity Unit, the body charged with investigating corruption in the game, but it would appear it has taken no action against them and they have been allowed to continue playing.
However, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) has dismissed claims made in the reports that information regarding the alleged match fixing has been suppressed, saying that it has zero tolerance with regard to corruption and betting-related match fixing. However, Chris Kermode, the head of the ATP, has said that it will “investigate any new information.”
An investigation was set up by the ATP itself in 2007 regarding unusual betting action on a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello, although both players were cleared of any wrongdoing at the time. However, this latest Buzzed and BBC investigation used this same match as a starting point for their enquiries, which quickly grew to encompass a number of other top-ranked players and international gambling rings.
It is thought that betting rings have made hundreds of thousands of dollars on allegedly fixed games, with players offered amounts up to $50,000 to throw sets or entire matches. This is despite previous investigations in 2008 into a number of the same players, and an anti-corruption code being introduced into world tennis in 2009. There have been further investigations into a number of these players in subsequent years but no disciplinary action with regard to match fixing has ever been taken.
The scandal is set to overshadow the Australian Open and will no doubt create doubt in the minds of punters as to whether it is safe to bet on tennis in this tournament or in the future.
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