POSTED: January 19th 2016

JOHN GOODBODY: Sport needs world body to probe match fixing

Novak Djokovic has come out that was indirectly offered $200,000 to throw a match / Getty Images
Novak Djokovic has come out that was indirectly offered $200,000 to throw a match / Getty Images

Tennis icon Roger Federer demands the names of the accused matchfixers / Getty Images
Tennis icon Roger Federer demands the names of the accused matchfixers / Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Hardly has the fall-out begun to settle from the report into corruption in athletics than another global sport was in the spotlight. This time, it was tennis and once again the issues were disturbing.

An investigation into the alleged throwing of matches for money, because of betting on the outcome, claimed that 16 men, all of whom have been ranked in the world's top 50, had been frequently named to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) but without apparent sanction. The joint report by the BBC and BuzzFeed had topicality because it came on the first day of the Australian Open Championships, in which it was alleged eight of these 16 were playing.

The investigation claimed that these players were linked with gambling syndicates in Russia and Italy and were offered cash up to $50,000,sometimes to throw matches and sometimes deliberately to perform badly in particular passages of play.  

The TIU was jointly set up in 2008 by the International Tennis Federation, the Grand Slam Board, the ATP World Tour and the Women's Tennis Association. It is based in London and consists of five investigators, made up of former policemen and investigators, with a budget of $2 million.

The TIU has prosecuted 13 men since 2008. Five were banned from tennis including the Austrian Daniel Kollerer, who was ranked world 55 on the ATP list, following charges of match-fixing. He failed to get the ban overturned when he appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The tennis authorities were initially dismissive of the claims of these recent reports, believing that the information was nine years old and had already been investigated without finding any substance. However, Chris Kermode, the executive chairman of the ATP World Tour, insisted that: "We will investigate any new information and we always do. The Tennis Integrity Unit has to find evidence as opposed to information, suspicion or hearsay. This is the key here, that it requires evidence."

And this is the problem. Often it is very difficult to obtain the evidence that would stand up in court.  One odd match was in 2007, when Nikolay Davydenko, who had been No.4 in the world, met Martin Vassallo of Argentina in a minor tournament in Poland. A total of about $7 million was placed with Betfair on Arguello to win, despite the difference in their ranking. The Russian won the first set and was leading in the second (with bets still being placed on the South American) before Davydenko retired with a damaged ankle and toe. Betfair promptly voided all bets.

Although the circumstances were curious and an inquiry was set up, using investigators from the British Horseracing Authority in Britain - this was a year before the TIU was established--no charges were brought by the ATP. The investigating team did not have the power to scrutinise phone records or bank accounts.

The amount of money being allocated to investigators is ludicrously little. $2 million is far less than the winner of the men's singles gets at Wimbledon or the US Open Championships.

What is now needed is for the International Olympic Committee to take the lead in setting up a global body to tackle corruption in sport just as it did in 1999 by establishing the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). For the sake of transparency, international governing bodies should not themselves be responsible for investigations while also promoting the sport. It is a conflict of interests.     

Sports, such as tennis and football, are rich enough to ensure that this body is properly funded and resourced. This body could then liaise with the police in the relevant countries, who could get access to phone and bank records to ensure any suspicions are duly investigated.

However, one's worry is that the governing bodies of sport will be reluctant to fund such a body. After all, the WADA has a budget of only about $25 million. Sady, I am not hopeful.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · Olympics · tennis · John Goodbody

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