Dramatic claims of match fixing at the top levels of world tennis, including at Wimbledon and by winners of grand slam titles, emerged last night.
The sport’s governing bodies have been repeatedly warned that a core group of 16 players, half of whom will begin playing at the Australian Open today, may have been fixing matches, but no action has been taken. The players have all been ranked in the top 50.
One player who is competing in the Australian Open is suspected of repeatedly fixing his first set, while players are being targeted in hotel rooms at major tournaments and offered $50,000 or more a fix by corrupt gamblers, according to previously unreleased files.
Betting syndicates in Russia, northern Italy and Sicily have made hundreds of thousands of pounds betting on games that investigators believe were fixed, including three at Wimbledon and at the French Open, according to leaked documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and the BBC.
Tennis is the latest sport, after football and athletics, to become embroiled in allegations of corruption. Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, was banned from football for eight years as part of corruption investigations and high-ranking officials at the IAAF, the governing body of athletics, are embroiled in a doping controversy.
Evidence that a network of players had been fixing matches, including at Wimbledon, was first passed to world tennis authorities about seven years ago after a match between Nikolay Davydenko, the Russian world No 4, and Martín Vassallo Argüello, who is Argentinian.
The organising body, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), was given the task of investigating the game in 2008. While the authorities announced at the end of that investigation that they had found no evidence that rules had been broken, the inquiry widened to look into a web of gamblers linked to top-level players. It found evidence of syndicates in Russia and Italy making money betting on games which were believed to have been fixed, and the inquiry team produced a confidential report for the tennis authorities which suggested that 28 players involved in these games should be investigated.
However, the findings were never followed up and all of the players were allowed to continue playing. Mark Phillips, one of the investigators, said: “They could have got rid of a network of players that would have almost completely cleared the sport up. We gave them everything tied up with a nice pink bow on top and they took no action at all.”
After the investigation, the Tennis Integrity Unit was set up to enforce fair play. Nigel Willerton, who leads the unit, said that tennis authorities failed to take any action against the players because a new anti-corruption code was established in 2009, and legal advice suggested that previous corruption offences could not be pursued retrospectively.
“As a result, no new investigations into any of the players who were mentioned in the 2008 report were opened,” Mr Willerton, a former Metropolitan police officer with the Flying Squad, said.
The two news organisations did not name the players, saying that proving a link between the gamblers and players would require access to phone, bank or computer records.
However, tennis authorities have been warned that at least nine of the players who escaped further investigation have continued to play in suspicious matches even after the new code took effect.
In the report, one of the investigators said: “It is quite clear from the results of my analysis that the ATP, and to a much lesser degree the WTA [the body that runs women’s tennis], have a problem with their players ‘throwing’ matches.”
After devising an algorithm to analyse gambling on professional tennis matches over the past seven years, BuzzFeed identified 15 players who regularly attracted one-sided betting that shifted the odds, which it said was a red flag for possible match fixing.
Chris Kermode, the London-based executive chairman and president of the ATP World Tour, said last night: “I can assure you that tennis is not treating this lightly. The idea that tennis is not acting appropriately is ludicrous.”