Who’s a fixer?
Match-fixing rumours have flown at the Australian Open. Although players are dismissive, there might be something to it
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?
QUEEN Serena Williams during day five of the Australian Open this week
TOP DOG Novak Djokovic during his third-round match of the Australian Open this week