BuzzFeed UK and the BBC released files Sunday in a joint effort to expose 16 professional tennis players that are suspected of fixing matches, allowing corrupt gamblers to win big on their losses. This group of athletes has been under suspicion from the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) on and off for the past decade. Without sufficient evidence to expose possible cheating, players were allowed to continue playing with no repercussions – over half of them are participating in the Australian Open this year.
The leaked files deal heavily with an investigation around suspicious of betting patterns on a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martín Vassallo Arguello in 2007. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) cleared both men, but its review of the match led them to find other suspicious matches that fit a similar pattern, thus the TIU was born.
Even with this new information, officials in the sport are adamant that illegal activity has not been overlooked on their part. “The Tennis Integrity Unit and the tennis authorities absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match fixing has been suppressed for any reason or isn’t being thoroughly investigated,” said Chris Kermode, the ATP’s executive chairman and president during aMonday morning press conference. Kermode also promised an investigation from the BBC and BuzzFeed finings.
In an interview Sunday with ESPN, Kermode was on defense, saying, “We’ve invested over $14 million into this program [TIU], and they’ve had 18 convictions with six life bans, so when we do hit them, we hit them hard.”
Buzzfeed also enlisted an in-house data analyst to examine the gambling on tennis matches over the past decade. This test determined that 15 players were regularly throwing matches, and 4 of those specific athletes were giving up on matches that they had less than 1 in 1,000 chances of losing.
In the aftermath of this report, the professional tennis community reacted with a widespread number of opinions and calls to action. Former pro, Arnaud Clément once declined an opportunity to lose on purpose for financial gain during his time playing. He said, “A few years ago, in Russia, I was playing a match that evening and a stranger offered me an significant sum of money to lose the game. He left without success.”
Novak Djokovic admitted Monday, he was indirectly offered $200,000 to throw the first-round of a 2007 tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia. His staff ultimately rejected the offer.
Number 1 women’s tennis player in the world, Serena Williams said“,When I’m playing, I can only answer for me. I play very hard, and every player I play seems to play hard…As an athlete, I do everything I can to be not only great, but historic. If that [match-fixing] is going on, I don’t know about it. I’m kind of sometimes in a little bit of a bubble.”
When asked about his knowledge of match fixing in the sport in Melbourne, Roger Federer, the world’s 3rd best said, “I would like to hear names…it’s such nonsense to answer something that is pure speculation…You have to take it super serious. This is more a question for guys in suits, not one in a tracksuit.”
A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister, David Cameron said, “It’s deeply concerning that another sport is facing such serious allegations…The most important thing is that action is taken now in response and that the independent authorities get on with that. They’ve got to build their credibility and confidence of those who want to know the real truth behind such allegations.”
The future of pro tennis doesn’t hang in the balance, but this scandal surely has rattled many athletes, spectators, and administrative entities that represent it. Only time will tell how the situation is dealt with, and how the overall sport moves on.