Match-fixing is commonplace in tennis’s lower levels and efforts to fight it are inadequate, a senior anti-corruption official told AFP after cheating claims rocked the sport during the Australian Open.
After an explosive report claimed match-fixing was repeatedly going unpunished, Chris Eaton of the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) criticised tennis’s “opaque and secretive” anti-corruption body.
The controversy is just the latest to hit the tainted sports world after claims of a doping cover-up shook athletics and multiple scandals engulfed football’s governing body, FIFA.
Eaton, directory of integrity at the ICSS, said professional betting analysis showed “nil manipulation” of matches at the top levels of tennis, where players are highly paid and less susceptible to bribery.
“However in the second and lower levels, manipulation indicators are heavy and regularly occurring,” the former FIFA security chief said via email.
“We are not the only sport integrity organisation to observe this.”
Eaton’s comments follow the BBC and BuzzFeed report that said 16 players who had reached the top 50 over the past decade had repeatedly been suspected of fixing matches, but never punished.
Three matches at Wimbledon had fallen under suspicion and at least eight of the “core group” of players on the fixing radar were at the Australian Open Grand Slam tournament, which began on Monday, it said.
Tennis authorities rejected any suggestion that evidence was suppressed and defended the workings of the Tennis Integrity Unit, which was set up in 2008 and has landed 18 convictions, including six life bans.
The BBC and BuzzFeed report’s claims are backed up by anecdotal evidence including from Serbian world number one Novak Djokovic, who said he was once offered $200,000 to fix a match in Russia.
Retired American player Andy Roddick said a fellow former professional had told him he could probably name “at least 8-9” of the 16 suspected of repeatedly fixing matches.
Eaton said hundreds of thousands of dollars can be made by gamblers using accumulators to bet on the outcomes of multiple matches, a practice that is especially popular in eastern Europe and Russia.
It creates a powerful incentive to fix matches— something which is particularly easy to do in tennis, which has many poorly paid players and where it only takes one bribe to secure the desired outcome.