Tennis world shaken following match-fixing scandal

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Tennis world shaken following match-fixing scandal

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The sport that was once the ultimate “gentleman’s game” is now being hit hard with intimations of lack of integrity, due to recent match fixing.  BBC and Buzzfeed dropped a bomb on another match fixing investigation the day before the Australian Open, just weeks ago, and the world of tennis is holding its breath, to see what will happen next.

This issue first came across major international attention in 2007, when Nikolay Davydenko, then the fourth-best men’s tennis player in the world, lost to 87th-ranked Argentinean Martin Vassallo Arguello on a forfeit — because of medical reasons.  Betting analysts immediately popped the red flag, when they noticed how much the odds had changed in Arguello’s favor, despite Davydenko winning the first set handily and taking control of the second set as well.  Arguello’s odds of winning soared in a matter of minutes, as if everyone placing bets within the gambling syndicate knew something everyone else didn’t.

The worried tennis community cheered when the four main governing bodies of tennis came together, to investigate the situation for match fixing.  They were not about to have their beloved sport ruined by corrupt hands, just as many other major sports have been: think baseball, basketball and even figure skating.

As a response, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) was established in 2008.  The team of investigators and tennis experts was formed to lay down the law against all those who were looking to make a little extra or maybe a few hundred thousand dollars on match fixing, as well as to generally keep the integrity of the sport in check.

But, the formation of the TIU is currently the peak of their existence.  After “extensive” investigation into the Davydenko and Arguello match, the two got off scot-free, as the consequences for match fixing were active only after the match took place, and the rules could not be enacted retroactively.

The TIU turned the other cheek and said there was not enough hard evidence, only information and speculation. And clearly that is not enough to go on for the TIU, when one of their main purposes is to look into possible leads on match fixing.

What’s shocking is that the TIU made this ruling despite knowing that Arguello had exchanged 82 texts with the head of a known Italian gambling syndicate.  Davydenko’s conversation with the medical trainer on staff at his match that day is also a known piece of information.  He clearly asked the trainer if his injury was reason enough to retire from the match, as if he already had plans afoot to throw it.

Just a few years later, a group of betting analysts and investigators put together an impressive track record on some 26,000 matches for match fixing, known as the Fixing Files, complete with a “blacklist” of about 16 core players who repeatedly received the red flag for match fixing.  The team handed over their findings to tennis authorities, and the files seemed to disappear into thin air.  No action was taken.  Fast-forward to today, and eight of them have competed in the Australian Open in 2016.  Further, 70 players have been flagged in the last decade. And not a single one has been sanctioned.

Just a few weeks ago, a low-level, mixed doubles match was flagged for match fixing in the Australian Open. If this is happening, even in a first-round, basically insignificant, mixed-doubles match, then there is clearly a widespread problem with match fixing.

Those who have been active members of the professional tennis world for a long time have known that match fixing has been going on before 2008.  It’s as if the community is too shy, or loathe,  to own up to corruption within the pristine halls of the sport.

What the tennis community needs to realize is that, in this day and age, no sport is completely clean.  A lot of people are in it for the money, whether as a player, a spectator or an official.  Tennis is a sport that, unfortunately, does not pay very well, over the entire spectrum of the rankings.  Current number-one Novak Djokovic received millions of dollars, while the average professional ranked below the top 100 gets paid maybe six figures, at best.

Current players are even speaking up about the scandal.  Andy Murray had the courage to step up and say that match fixing is unacceptable; and the reaction to his words was hardly that of a gentleman’s game. Officials, fans and even other players turned the other cheek and even turned on him, saying, “That’s rubbish”.

But admitting that match fixing is an issue is exactly the proper move to make. The longer tennis sits around and wonders if it’s really true or if it’s really a big enough problem to confront, the bigger the monster gets; and more fuel gets added to the fire. And if they don’t listen to those who come forward, how does the problem even get addressed and resolved?

It all starts with the TIU.  They currently have a sad turnout of five members showing up to their probably very depressing office parties.  And to add to a series of unfortunate events, there is not even a betting analyst on staff.  Who better to track match fixing than individuals who can tell you about suspicious betting patterns — in their sleep? There are about 20 different gambling industries that specialize in this stuff. Why not utilize them?  The two parties must begin to work together to solve this issue, once and for all.

Another suggestion is simply to up the ante.  Lower-division professionals simply aren’t being paid enough, and getting a $100,000 bonus in their bank account, just to lose a few key games, can be extremely tempting. Professionals have to pay for their own hotels, tournament expenses, coaches and travel. It’s difficult for them to break even, even with a year of fairly good results.  Roger Federer says that he does everything in his power to make himself a better tennis player, and the TIU should do the same, to become better enforcers of the law.

Essentially, the TIU needs to bring out the big guns and stop worrying about how this will taint the tennis world.  The fact of the matter is, it’s already tainted. The sport is already under speculation; it is time to do the right thing, make no excuses, and trust that the good members of the tennis community will fall back on the integrity of the game in order to rebuild.