Who’s a fixer?

Match-fix­ing ru­mours have flown at the Aus­tralian Open. Al­though play­ers are dis­mis­sive, there might be some­thing to it

CityPress - - Sport - S’BUSISO MSE­LEKU sm­se­leku@city­press.co.za

The ten­nis has been siz­zling in the sear­ing heat at the year’s first grand slam, the Aus­tralian Open, with most of the top seeds sur­viv­ing the first week. How­ever, a huge dark cloud of match-fix­ing is hov­er­ing over the lu­cra­tive sport.

The BBC and Buz­zFeed claim their in­ves­ti­ga­tions have iden­ti­fied a core group of 16 play­ers who have – over the past decade – re­peat­edly been brought to the at­ten­tion of the sport’s gov­ern­ing bod­ies, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Ten­nis Play­ers (ATP) and the Women’s Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion, over sus­pi­cions of match­fix­ing.

It has thrown the game into a bit of a tail­spin.

They went fur­ther to claim that “all of the 16 play­ers have ranked in the world’s top 50 at some point and more than half of them are play­ing in the Aus­tralian Open first round”.

There are also claims that the ATP has, over the past decade, been alerted to the shenani­gans in ten­nis, but swept them un­der the car­pet.

That is un­til 2008, when they formed the Ten­nis In­tegrity Unit (TIU) to in­ves­ti­gate sus­pect games.

TIU di­rec­tor Nigel Willer­ton this week re­fused to con­firm whether any play­ers com­pet­ing at the Aus­tralian Open were un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

ATP pres­i­dent Chris Ker­mode re­jected out­right sug­ges­tions that ev­i­dence of match­fix­ing had been sup­pressed.

“The Ten­nis In­tegrity Unit and the ten­nis au­thor­i­ties ab­so­lutely re­ject any sug­ges­tion that ev­i­dence of match-fix­ing has been sup­pressed for any rea­son or isn’t be­ing thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gated,” he was quoted as say­ing.

“And while the BBC and Buz­zFeed re­ports mainly re­fer to events from about 10 years ago, we will in­ves­ti­gate any new in­for­ma­tion, and we al­ways do,” he added.

Top play­ers, in­clud­ing world num­ber one No­vac Djokovic and his women’s coun­ter­part Serena Wil­liams, along with Roger Fed­erer and two-time Grand Slam cham­pion Lley­ton Hewitt dis­missed the al­le­ga­tions.

“From my knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion about match-fix­ing or any­thing sim­i­lar, there is noth­ing hap­pen­ing on the top level, as far as I know,” said Djokovic.

“There’s no real proof or ev­i­dence yet of any ac­tive play­ers. As long as it’s like that, it’s just spec­u­la­tion. So I think we have to keep it that way.”

Wil­liams, in an­swer to a ques­tion of whether she knew of any match-fix­ing ex­am­ples, said: “Not that I’m aware of. When I’m play­ing, I can only an­swer for me. I play very hard, and ev­ery player I play seems to play hard.”

A peeved Hewitt, af­ter an on­line blog linked him to the match-fix­ing al­le­ga­tions soon af­ter his straight-sets loss to Spa­niard David Fer­rer in a se­cond-round match, which was his last match at the Aus­tralian Open af­ter 20 straight years, snorted: “It’s farce and an ab­surd joke. I think it’s a joke to deal with it. Ob­vi­ously, there’s no pos­si­ble way. I know my name’s now been thrown into it,” he said.

But de­spite the all-round de­nials, ten­nis au­thor­i­ties would do well to get to the bot­tom of this, as there is usu­ally no smoke with­out fire.

Sus­pi­cions have been raised in the past when “ir­reg­u­lar” bet­ting on ten­nis matches took place.

Au­thor­i­ties would do well to heed Bri­tish sec­re­tary of state for cul­ture, me­dia and sport John Whit­ting­dale, who told BBC Ra­dio 4’s To­day show: “I hope that ten­nis will learn from the mis­takes of other sports and in­ves­ti­gate this very quickly and openly.

“In the past, al­le­ga­tions of this kind, which have been against ath­let­ics and against foot­ball, have ap­peared to be swept un­der the car­pet, and that has done enor­mous dam­age.”

The last word must go to for­mer world num­ber one Fed­erer, who opined: “We need to make sure the in­tegrity of the game is al­ways main­tained – be­cause, with­out that, I al­ways would say, why do you come and watch this match tonight, or any match? Be­cause you just don’t know the out­come.

“As long as we don’t know the out­come, for the play­ers, fans, it’s go­ing to be ex­cit­ing. The mo­ment that gets taken away, there’s no point any more to be in the sta­dium.” And therein lies the rub. Can any­one earnestly still have com­plete faith in the re­sults of the beau­ti­ful ten­nis be­ing dished out down un­der in the early hours of South African time with this cloud hang­ing over the space?

Me­thinks not!

PHOTO: PAT SCALA / GETTY IM­AGES

QUEEN Serena Wil­liams dur­ing day five of the Aus­tralian Open this week

PHOTO: REUTERS / JA­SON O'BRIEN

TOP DOG No­vak Djokovic dur­ing his third-round match of the Aus­tralian Open this week

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