Tennis authorities to stamp out betting rackets as Wimbledon starts
Published 23/06/2008 | 09:19
A clampdown on corruption in professional tennis is to be announced on the opening day of Wimbledon, in the wake of revelations that match-fixing and illegal betting are rife.
Investigations ordered by tennis authorities have shown that at least 45 matches played in recent years are under suspicion, as are a number of players, including some of the top international professionals.
Eight Wimbledon matches, four of them from last year's men's singles competition, are among those singled out for scrutiny in a gambling industry dossier of suspect matches played since 2002.
The four last year involved foreign players who each lost by three sets. All of the losers picked out following last year's Wimbledon are alleged to have been involved in suspect matches at other tournaments.
Five losing players from the eight Wimbledon matches are playing in this year's men's singles competition. The tournament this year features a total of 18 players who lost games on the list.
The leading bookmakers behind the dossier passed it to the world tennis authorities, who in turn engaged two former senior Scotland Yard police officers to review allegations of match-fixing and illegal betting in the sport.
Suspect matches show substantial spikes in the amount of money wagered on them.
A large number of current and former top players told investigators they "knew of" opponents who had been invited to throw matches. Although some said they would report any direct approach made to themselves, many said they would not do so if they knew or suspected of such an approach to another player.
Organised crime poses a serious threat to a cash-rich sport, which attracts hundreds of millions in bets each year. Tennis is considered particularly vulnerable because results can be changed by just one player.
World tennis officials will adopt sweeping measures designed to protect the sport's integrity. They include imposing three-year bans – though these could be extended to lifetime disqualification – and fines of up to £50,000 for those involved in corruption.
Players will be compelled to reveal match-fixing or betting scam approaches within 48 hours, and a new, all-powerful anti-corruption tsar is to be appointed.
Other moves include a total ban on tennis betting, not just by players and their entourages but also their families, as well as tighter security around tournament locker rooms to restrict access to players and to prevent criminals obtaining sensitive match information.
The crackdown will be policed by an anti-corruption unit that tennis bodies plan to create in London before the end of this year.
With tennis under scrutiny in a way not seen since the anti-doping rows, strict new anti-corruption rules will be revealed at a board meeting of the Association of Tennis Professionals tomorrow. The reforms have been described as the biggest change in the sport since drug-testing laws were agreed in 2004.
The International Tennis Federation, the Women's Tennis Association and the Grand Slam Committee are expected to back the moves at meetings during this year's Wimbledon Championships.
Stephen Busey, one of the lawyers behind the proposals, said: "The intent is to provide uniformity among governing bodies on the anti-wagering effort. It is significant because it reflects a common intention among governing bodies to come down hard on wagering by players and people associated with tennis."
Tennis authorities have moved quickly to shore up the sport's reputation in the face of growing evidence that online betting has ignited a boom in the amount of money being gambled on it – only football and horseracing attract more wagers each year.
Hundreds of millions of pounds will be placed on Wimbledon matches this year. More money is spent betting on this than on any other Grand Slam event, according to the online betting company Betfair, which estimates that more than £455m was wagered on the tournament last year.
Last month, tennis authorities published the findings of the review by former policemen Jeff Rees and Ben Gunn.
The investigation was prompted by a scandal that erupted last August when suspicious gambling patterns led to an online betting site voiding all bets on a match at the Poland Open, when Nikolay Davydenko, No 4 in the world, retired hurt and lost to Martin Vassallo Arguello, ranked 86. The investigation continues, but Davydenko's lawyer has protested his client's innocence, insisting he retired with a genuine injury.
The Davydenko match was one of more than 70 examined by Rees and Gunn. Their report said: "We do not doubt that criminal elements may be involved in seeking to subvert or corrupt some players or players' support staff; that may even involve organised criminal gangs."
They concluded that at least 45 matches required further investigation and say that the intelligence available "indicates that there is sufficient cause for concern about the integrity of some players and those outside tennis who seek to corrupt them". The bookmaker Stan James warned that the number of suspect matches looked a "conservative figure".
Last October, Britain's Andy Murray said: "It's pretty disappointing for all the players, but everyone knows it goes on."
Murray subsequently retracted the statement.
Match-fixing: 'Where there is money, you have crooks'
Nikolay Davydenko, the then world number four, cited an injury when he withdrew from a match against Martin Vassallo Arguello in Poland in last August. However, the online betting exchange Betfair reported concerns about irregular gambling patterns to tennis's governing body and declared all bets void – prompting an investigation by the ATP into the match.
Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement, the reigning men's doubles champions at Wimbledon, revealed last October that they had been asked to throw matches in the past – something they had both refused out of hand. In a French radio interview, Llodra was reported as saying: "We have the feeling that a lot of people have been approached, there's a lot of talk about it on the circuit... Wherever there is money, you have crooks. It's difficult to stop because there is a powerful ring behind it."
Suspensions and fines for betting on matches have been handed out to five Italian tennis players since last December. They include Italian number one Potito Starace (56 in the world rankings), Daniele Bracciali, Alessio Di Mauro, Giorgio Galimberti and Federico Luzzi.
Philipp Kohlschreiber, 24, ranked 36 in the world, publicly denied allegations in the German newspaper 'Die Welt' last year that he was among a group of players involved in match-fixing.
Last September, the Belgian player Gilles Elseneer said he was offered and turned down more than $100,000 (£50,600) to lose a first-round match against Starace at Wimbledon in 2005.