Match-fixing and sports go a long way and it’s no different in tennis where there have been multiple instances of reported match-fixing and banned players as a result. According to some reports, what’s revealed to the paying tennis fan is just a small tip of the iceberg and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. others reckon tennis is a relatively cleaner sport than most others.
In the past decade or so, more and more tennis match-fixing incidents have come to light. The formation of Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) in 2008 is one of the chief reasons for this; it’s not a question of whether or not corruption in the sport existed before but whether it was as rampant as it has become over the years.
The TIU was a joint-initiative from the ATP, WTA, ITF and the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open organisers to weed out the match-fixers and stamp out corruption from tennis.
This body has the authority to ban or penalise players, coaches and umpires in case they are found to be involved in fixing and any other form of corruption. The reason for its set-up in 2008 after there were major allegations of fixing in the sport around that time.
According to TIU’s official website, the purpose of the organisation is as follows:
“It is responsible for enforcing the sport’s zero-tolerance policy on betting-related corruption. In doing so it has three main strategic priorities – preventing corruption from taking place; investigation and prosecution of offenders; delivering anti-corruption education for players and stakeholders to recognise and report corrupt activity.”
Over the years TIU has been in existence, there have been multiple threads of investigation against scores of tennis players and cair upires which have resulted in the suspensions of many of them. The rumours, however, have never stopped.
Daniele Bracciali, a former world number 49 in the singles rankings and having reached a highest of 21st in doubles, has been involved and suspended multiple times from tennis. The last of these suspensions came in in November 2018 when he was banned for life and afforded a whopping $250,000 fine. Potito Starace was also banned for 10 years at the same time and fined $100,000.
The doubles pair of Bracciali and Starace had reached the French Open semifinal in 2012, after having received a short suspension of around two months apiece in 2005 for betting. They received further punishments when it came to light the pair had been involved in taking payments for under-performance but the life bans they got in 2015 were cancelled soon after.
However, in 2018, they were both handed out their latest punishments – a life-time ban for Bracciali and 10 years off tennis for Starace.
Many of the alleged corruption issues happen at the lower-end of the tennis spectrum – in the Futures events, the third rung of men’s tennis. These are tournaments which aren’t played to too many spectators, if any, and aren’t broadcast live either. Which is also probably why it’s been easier to manipulate results for some of those involved.
Of course, a match in a smaller tournament like this wouldn’t have too many volumes on the betting market so as to not invoke suspicion. This is also why there’s a good chance illegal betting syndicates might be targetting many of the players at that level, two of whom were Ukrainian twins Gleb and Vadim Alekseenko.
The pair was also banned for life from the sport, along with getting a fine of $250,000, the highest ever as in 2020, for their roles in match fixing. That neither player had ever seen inside the top 450 in the ATP rankings and were still awarded such punishments speaks volumes of how difficult it is to man the lower circuit for corruption.
Joao Souza is another player who was recently awarded a life ban from the sport. The former world number 69 was sent packing by the TIU in January 2020 and penalised $200,000 after he was also found guilty of corruption. The charges against Souza were quite serious.
He was said to be involved in match-fixing for a period of five years from 2015 at the Challenger and ITF Futures level. The competitions in question were held in Mexico, Brazil, USA and Czech Republic.
According to anti-corruption hearing officer Richard McLaren, Souza was found guilty of match-fixing and of “failing to report corrupt approaches, of failing to cooperate with an investigation—including destroying evidence—and soliciting other players not to use their best efforts,” according to TIU here.
Some of the other players who have been penalised and/or suspended for being involved in corruption in tennis include Jonathon Kanar, Diego Matos, Juan Carlos Saez, Issam Taweel, Youssef Hossam, Henry Atseye, Helen Ploskina and Karim Hossam among others.
The story of the last of the aforementioned names, Hossam, covered by the BBC in detail, is both sad and enlightening about how corruption in tennis. Hossam, an Egyptian player, was 24 when he was banned for life for match-fixing, following an investigation by the TIU.
He was alleged to have been approached by a player at a Futures tournament in Egypt and he agreed to lose a match for a mere $1000. That began a string of such fixes over the next few years following which he is reported to have also acted as a fixer himself, a middle-man who roped in the others.
Later, Hossam was banned for life by the TIU.
Corruption in tennis isn’t to be taken lightly. As mentioned earlier, the aforementioned cases are but a tip of the iceberg and issues around low wages and ease of fallibility in an individual sport have both pushed up the issues around corruption.
So much so, an Independent Review Panel was created in 2016 to get to the root of the problem and it took them nearly three years to release its report. 12 recommendations were mentioned in the report after the panel found “there was a tsunami of fixed matches at the lower levels of the game” according to this report in the New York Times.
According to this review, it’s at the lowest level of the sport, i.e. the men’s Futures circuit, there’s a lot of underlying issue with corruption. There was also suggestion the authorities should cut off ties with Sportradar, a company which had the official rights to the live scoring in matches played at that level because it increased the chances of corruption.
The review noted:
“Whilst these deals have generated considerable funds for the sport, they have also greatly expanded the available markets for betting on the lowest levels of professional tennis. The ITF did not appropriately assess the potential adverse effects of these agreements before entering into them.”
Why did it lead to corruption? Because this scoring is used by gambling companies for what’s called in-play betting; i.e. betting during a match as opposed to before the match begins.
Hopefully with time and sufficient resources, the authorities would be able to stamp out this corruption that has inflicted the game.