Even Tennis?

Published: January 25, 2016

By Jim Lichtman
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Even the great sport of tennis has been affected by sports gambling (as if gambling were a sport).

The BBC reports (Jan. 18), “Over the last decade, 16 players who have ranked in the top 50 have been repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) over suspicions they have thrown matches.

“All of the players, including winners of Grand Slam titles, were allowed to continue competing.

“The TIU – which was set up to police the sport – said it had a zero-tolerance approach to betting-related corruption.

“Chris Kermode, who heads the Association of Tennis Professionals, rejected claims evidence of match-fixing had ‘been suppressed for any reason or isn’t being thoroughly investigated.’ But he added: ‘While the BBC and BuzzFeed reports mainly refer to events from about 10 years ago, we will investigate any new information.’

“The cache of documents passed to the BBC and Buzzfeed News include the findings of an investigation set up in 2007 by the Association of Tennis Professionals, the organization Kermode heads.”

Growing up, tennis was a family sport. My brother and I, along with mom and dad, would go to the local tennis club most weekends. While I was relegated to the hit balls against the backboard, I usually got to play after a couple of hours. However, the best part of the experience was the fact that when the pros came to town – Ken Rosewald, Lew Hoad, Rod Laver, etc. – my family, along with others, would provide a room in our house, (clearly, all before big-money tennis). Better than that, after they finished practice, I’d get a chance to rally with these guys. Even better was the fact that after working with them, I noticed a definite improvement in my own game: lighter on my feet, racket back sooner, I moved more quickly, my serve was more fluid and I felt more confident as a result.

But something more.

Despite sometimes playing in abominable conditions (a parking lot that was lightly paved-over served as a tennis court at one time), these pros had the utmost of integrity. During some matches with inadequate umpiring, players would call a ball in, which meant a point against themselves. Off the court, there manners were impeccable. Yes, they’d joke, drink and play around and have a good time, but I never witnessed any one of them being rude or disrespectful. And as an occasional ball boy, they were gracious and respectful to me and other ball boys.

So, when I read of the cheating scandal eight years earlier I was surprised, but then again, not surprised. This is an age of big money sports and as such, has its own underbelly of corruption.

The New York Times reports (Jan. 24), “A major sports gambling website suspended betting on Sunday for a mixed doubles match at the Australian Open, raising suspicions of match fixing at one of the world’s most prestigious tennis tournaments.

“Ahead of a first-round match pitting Lara Arruabarrena and David Marrero against Andrea Hlavackova and Lukasz Kubot, large amounts of money poured in on what would normally be an obscure contest, said Marco Blume, head of sportsbook at the website, Pinnacle Sports, one of the largest and most influential betting websites in the world.

“Nearly all of the money, Blume said, came down for Hlavackova and Kubot, which he said was an indication that the match might be fixed.

“Hlavackova and Kubot won, 6-0, 6-3. The first set lasted only 20 minutes.”

In the original report, the BBC said that “A group of whistle blowers inside tennis who want to remain anonymous, recently passed the documents on to the BBC and Buzzfeed News.

“A group of whistle blowers inside tennis,” the BBC reports, “who want to remain anonymous, recently passed the documents on to the BBC and Buzzfeed News.

“The documents we have obtained show the inquiry found betting syndicates in Russia, northern Italy and Sicily making hundreds of thousands of pounds betting on matches investigators thought to be fixed. Three of these matches were at Wimbledon.

“In a confidential report for the tennis authorities in 2008, the inquiry team said 28 players involved in these matches should be investigated, but the findings were never followed up.

“Tennis introduced a new anti-corruption code in 2009 but after taking legal advice we’re told previous corruption offences could not be pursued.

“ ‘As a result, no new investigations into any of the players who were mentioned in the 2008 report were opened,’ a TIU spokesman said.”

Yes, ethics scandals happen to the best of us, but I’m hoping that the sport will come through it to demonstrate the best that the game and players can be.


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