The BBC and BuzzFeed have published a report, based on secret documents, that contains evidence of match-fixing in tennis. The claims involve 16 of the world’s top 50 players over the last decade, eight of whom are in this year’s Australian Open. The joint investigation alleges that the Tennis Integrity Unit, the body responsible for policing the sport, failed to act on reports of corruption dating back to 2007. Martin Aviles, a Mexico-based sports reporter at Economics Today, gives Metro his insight on what he calls the greatest sports crisis in history.
Q: How big a problem is illegal gambling in sports?
– Sports gambling is something almost natural, but the biggest problem comes up when it goes beyond the sporting arena and becomes even more important than the athletic competition itself. Sports are at its greatest crisis in history and scandals around FIFA prove it, along with doping in athletics and big problems in cycling and baseball. Sports stopped having credibility and the world of illegal gambling networks appears to be bigger than we thought; the damage could be irreparable if it is not stopped immediately.
Q: Is tennis vulnerable to corruption?
– It is equal to [soccer] or even more vulnerable. Tennis is about a limited group of players who play almost every week. So it’s more likely that corruption will occur in one or two games per year in exchange for a large sum, whereas, in [soccer], it is about a whole federation.
Q: Is the Australian Open affected by match-fixing?
– Unfortunately, yes. The Australian Open will attract all the world and any anomaly will surely bring rumors of corruption. Nothing will be the same in the “white sport” until scandals disappear.
Q: Is it difficult to detect whether a tennis match has been fixed?
– In sporting terms, we could detect a play variation — a downswing of someone — who doesn’t usually make mistakes. But it is complicated. The research will bring more documents or specific evidence of match-fixing, but it cannot happen on the court. Novak Djokovic said that in 2007 he received an offer to rig one of his games. By investigating these offers, we could uncover the source of the corruption.
Q: How can we stop match-fixing?
– First, identify where the problem originates, and once they’re found, remove them from the network or sport. Second, a severe punishment needs to take place in order to send a signal to any future offender and prevent young players from falling into this trap. But the worst thing one can do is deny any problem; it would be the biggest mistake.
Q: Is there potential for a scandal of the size and nature which hit FIFA?
– Yes, most likely.The worst thing is when sportsmen are vulnerable to corruption, not the management. Tennis players who do not dignify their profession and are found guilty of corruption, must leave the tournament.
Q: What can we expect in the future?
– It is necessary for the Tennis Integrity Unit to be very cautious and rely on international organizations, like the FBI to investigate any wrongdoing. By now, we have to wait until everything falls down under its own weight. The “white sport” is blackened.
Q: Buzzfeed helped undercover the corruption. Is Buzzfeed entering the world of investigative journalism?
– In my opinion, the investigation came out too early. The research is good, but not deep. Of course all the media will follow up, but if they had waited a little to release it, perhaps with some account numbers, we would be talking about a journalistic jewel. But I think it fell short and lends itself to speculations.
– By Dmitry Belyaev