Roger Federer wants names, and frankly, so do all of us after the start of the Australian Open was dominated by discussion of match-fixing and betting patterns instead of match-winning and baseline patterns. If you were Craig Tiley, the tournament director of the Australian Open, this was rotten timing. But it was hardly time wasted.

Tennis could use this latest teaching moment. There is no more serious, cynical matter in sports—which seem besieged by the serious and the cynical at the moment—than throwing a match. And according to those who investigate such matters, there is none more difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

Therein lies the big limitation of the report published on Monday by the BBC and BuzzFeed that claimed to have uncovered evidence that 16 players ranked in the top 50 during the last decade had repeatedly been flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), tennis’ internal watchdog, by betting authorities over suspicions that they had thrown matches. That list, according to the report, includes a Grand Slam singles winner, and those players apparently play on, eight of them in this Australian Open. But the report did not name names—clearly for legal reasons.

“I would love to hear names," Federer said after advancing to the second round. “Then at least it’s concrete stuff, and you can actually debate about it. Was it the player? Was it the support team? Who was it? Was it before? Was it a doubles player, a singles player? Which Slam? It’s so all over the place. It’s nonsense to answer something that is pure speculation."

The speculation is usually based on betting patterns, which can be damning. But betting patterns are, at best, corroborating evidence when it comes to proving corruption. If a tennis player throws a match—or in this spot-betting era, a game or a set—there generally has to be a direct link to a gambler or, to use industry parlance, a corrupter in order to generate a viable case.

“Looking at something and saying, ‘That looks suspicious,’ and actually having evidence are two different things, and suspicious data doesn’t equate to the fact that a player has done something wrong," said Mark Young, a vice-chairman and the chief legal officer of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Tour. “Betting patterns, which people tend to emphasize a great deal, are a source of a red flag to look into something, but they can often easily be explained by people closer to the sport. And when they can’t be explained, it doesn’t equal a corrupt match. And if it does, it doesn’t equal the fact that one of the players themselves is involved."

What those patterns definitely should equal, however, is plenty of robust activity in the TIU, which was formed in 2008 after a surge in suspicious betting activity in tennis. The investigation by the BBC and BuzzFeed makes the case that the TIU needs work, lots of work—that it has failed to pursue suspicious cases aggressively and that it lacks the resources to do a difficult job comprehensively. Tennis officials like Young and the US Tennis Association chief executive, Gordon A. Smith, defend the unit’s work and its approach. Young said, “I know every one of these reports or betting alerts goes to the TIU, and I’m confident the TIU looks at every one of them."

But there are clearly legitimate concerns about resources. According to Young, the annual budget for the unit is $2 million (around 13 crore). It has six investigators whose job is to cover a truly global sport in which about 120,000 professional matches are played annually. Yes, the unit does get considerable assistance from the betting companies, which have a big interest in preserving the integrity of their system, and from the law-enforcement authorities. But six investigators and $2 million seem low, considering the importance of the issue and the need to monitor the vast and murky world of the lowest-level Futures circuit, and also considering that many of the biggest concerns continue to reside in Eastern European nations, where police cooperation is at its lowest.

The sport has tried to be proactive of late, finally increasing prize money in its minor leagues. But the incentive to cheat to survive remains strong.

“What we’ve learned is gamblers don’t care," Young said. “Betting on a Challenger match is just as lucrative to them as betting on a Grand Slam match." The New York Times

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