Tennis appears to be in denial but match-fixing asserts are not new | Owen Gibson

The latest accusations are not the first for the sport and a lack of transparency and speed surrounding the investigative process is not helping convince the doubters

I think its always disillusioning when stories like this come out just before a big event, because it does detract, said Chris Kermode, the ATP president, of the latest wave of match fixing accusations to reach tennis on the eve of the seasons first grand slam in Melbourne.

Well, it does instead. But far from being defensive, the authorities concerned should be welcoming the match-fixing asserts as the latest opportunity to prove they are getting to grips with a problem that some at the intersection of lottery, corruption, athletic and money believe has been slipping from their grasp.

What has happened in the last couple of years is that this has been building up and building up. There has been a sticking plaster put one over the problem, said one well placed insider. They should have seen this coming. This is not new. No one has had a good word to say about what is going on. It is the tennis authorities not facing up to the problem.

Concerns about match-fixing in tennis are nothing new, particularly at the bottom aim of the professional game where winning a tournament can barely cover expenses, but also involving players in the top 100 who regularly appear on confidential watchlists drawn up by the Tennis Integrity Unit.

Chris Eaton, the former Fifa security chief who subsequently left for the Qatar-funded International Centre for Sport and Security, has said that tennis is the third-most targeted sport behind football and cricket.

Other experts have said that if you were going to design a sport to fix you would come up with tennis or snooker because it is so hard in both cases to prove wrongdoing.

The rapid growth of online betting on a vast swathe of matches, from the Future tournaments on the very bottom echo of the professional ladder to grand slams, had left tennis vulnerable.

One of the strongest accusations in the joint investigation by the BBC and BuzzFeed published on Sunday night was based on a nine-year-old report released in May 2008, which recommended that 28 players be investigated. Nothing was done because the authorities changed the rules and said they could not prosecute players investigated under the old ones.

The anti-corruption expert Ben Gunn, one of two British former police officers commissioned to write the report, said he was not in a position to judge the effectiveness of the Tennis Integrity Unit since because its works were so opaque.

The transparency of the Tennis Integrity Unit leaves something to be desired. In horse racing, we name the individual, we name the charges and we set the finding of the tribunal in the public domain, Gunn told the Guardian on Monday. Its difficult to gauge how successful they are because we dont know what theyre doing.

That report, written by Gunn and Jeff Rees( who became the first head of the TIU) was sparked by a notorious match between the Russian Nikolay Davydenko and the Argentinian Martin Vassallo Arguello in the Polish resort of Sopot in 2007. As chronicled at the time, the match attracted tens of thousands of pounds on the betting exchange Betfair for Arguello, ranked well below his contender, even as Davydenko raced into a one set to love leading before eventually retiring hurt.

Betfair took the unprecedented step of voiding the market after becoming convinced the hugely unusual betting patterns, described as the most outlandish one researcher had ensure for 20 years, entailed the vast majority of fund was being wagered by those who knew Davydenko would lose.

The report by Gunn and Rees recommended the creation of a new integrity unit to investigate the 28 occurrences listed and to proactively address the issue in future. It is at that point the athletics critics believe that it sold the pass. Instead of aggressively running after those players and sending a message to the gamble syndicates to participate in corrupting young players on the Future tour and then holding it over them as they progressed through the ranks, they fear the decision was taken to opt for containment.

As with doping crises in athletics and cycling, the fear is that the commercial impetus to protect the image and revenues of the sport has feed away at the desire to tackle the problem at root. The TIU and the four governing bodies that fund it strongly deny that is the case.

The overall assessment of many within the anti-corruption world is that potential match-fixing whether of a certain game, defined or match as a whole remains much more of a threat lower down the ladder. But that does not mean it should be taken any less seriously , nor that it does not occasionally affect grand slam competition.

Down the years, various media outlets have published versions of the nine so-called watchlists referred to by the BBC and most tennis fans would recognise at least a handful. But these are not, in the main, household figures at the very top of their sport.

According to the BBC/ BuzzFeed probe, 16 players who have ranked in the top 50 including at least one grand slam champion were allowed to continue playing in the past decade despite being flagged to the sports anti-corruption unit because of suspicious betting patterns surrounding their matches. The ATP strongly insisted that all evidence was followed up and, as acknowledged by all concerned, suspicious betting patterns do not necessarily lead to evidence of wrongdoing. But the biggest problem is that we will never know how to judge progression. Instead, critics dread the TIU has run after low-hanging fruit rather than embarking on the painstaking, difficult to prove and tortuous detective work required to prove the less obviously open and shut cases.

The TIU director of integrity, Nigel Willerton, told reporters in Melbourne he would not comment on whether any players on the pro tour were under investigation. But with no perceived threat of being shamed, there is very little jeopardy. To prove they are not in thrall to sponsors and players and avoid accusations of capture, surely greater transparency and far greater resourcing is the only way to go in a athletic now worth billions?

Paul Scotney, the former head of the British Horseracing Authoritys integrity unit who is working with the United Nation on the questions, said the new wave of speculation was a reminder that athletic needed to invest properly in tackling the problem.

This is just another warning that sport should take account of these things and should have proper partnerships with wager operators, said Scotney. Sport has to do its part, they have to commit resources to it. Betting on athletic is going to get bigger because its part of people lifestyles now. The questions is going to continue getting worse.

Following a global outbreak of handwringing as the scale of the match fixing issues in football and cricket became clear amid a snowstorm of headlines, integrity issues appear to have receded back up the priority list.

Tennis has particular issues around the ease with which players on the Futures and Challenger circuit could be corrupted. Unless it improves prize money and prospects there, temptation will always be at hand.

If there is one lesson of the past year, as trust in football and athletics has been decimated by corruption scandals, it is that sports governing bodies must conduct their business in the illuminate. The never apologise, never explain approach of the TIU does not inspire confidence.

If youre serious about tackling integrity in sport, youve got to take some angst. Youve got to wash some dirty linen to get it clean, concludes Gunn, eight years after he wrote such reports still creating waves.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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