By David Dodge
CEO, Sports Officiating Consulting LLC
Where there’s smoke, there’s almost always fire. And there’s been plenty of smoke and fire since a blockbuster report headlined “The Tennis Racquet” was released on the eve of the Australian Open. The BuzzFeed/BBC report rocked the tennis community by revealing governing bodies were warned of widespread match-fixing on the men’s tennis circuit, including at Wimbledon and the French Open.
While the report did not specify names, 16 players who have been ranked in the top 50 reportedly were involved. Novak Djokovic, the world’s top player, told reporters he was offered nearly $200,000 to lose a first-round match in a tournament in Russia in 2007.
Evidently, tennis’ governing bodies had enough concerns about possible match-fixing as far back as 2008 when they established the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU). Professional tennis became one of the first major sports to establish its own anti-corruption unit. TIU’s charge is to enforce the sport’s zero-tolerance policy towards gambling related corruption worldwide. In setting up the TIU, tennis’ leaders reviewed an independent report into the risks and threats that faced tennis as a sport subject to ever increasing attention from the gambling community.
In many countries betting is legal and an accepted pastime but in some it is illegal. Upon the creation of the TIU, tennis has its own rules that apply to all parties, irrespective of where a tournament takes place and who is playing in it. But now many tennis observers question whether the TIU has done enough to thwart the threat of match-fixing.
Nigel Willerton, director of the TIU, says, “all credible information received by the TIU is analyzed, assessed, and investigated by highly experienced former law enforcement investigators.” Few believe the problem of suspicious betting and match-fixing will go away. Eight of the players repeatedly flagged by the TIU over the past several years are scheduled to play in this year’s Australian Open.
Again, from the BuzzFeed/BBC report, “Prize money from the lesser tournaments can be paltry, and a year on the tennis tour can set a player back more than 100,000 (pounds) making it tempting to cash in on the occasional fix .”
While the TIU put in place a stringent code of conduct to combat corruption and was given extensive powers when investigating possible offences, neither it nor any of tennis’ governing bodies have in place an effective integrity and compliance program based on the proven U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
Whenever observers suggest a compliance program for sports organizations, the usual response is to wave away the suggestion on grounds it is unnecessary and would be impractical. To paraphrase an old saying, the fool ends up doing eventually what the wise man does promptly.