Expert opinion on the Buzzfeed/BBC tennis match-fixing allegations

For anyone who works in sports integrity the revelations were of little surprise. Within the field there has been criticism of the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) for their lack of transparency and only targeting the low hanging fruit. Legally the TIU tries to justify its clandestine approach on the basis of protecting sources and not making accusations about players without thoroughly investigating and going through the full process set out in the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program (TACP).

The historic allegations regarding the Davydenko case in the Buzzfeed/BBC story are of limited interest in our opinion. However to the general public, the linking of tennis to international gambling syndicates and organised crime (mafia) will be of great shock, and should be. The explanation in the story of the way betting patterns reveal match-fixing in tennis is also very good and engaging. It is regrettable that the writers of the story have been advised by their lawyers that they cannot name the players who form the alleged match manipulation ring. When these names undoubtedly are revealed at some point in the not too distant future, people should not forget the presence of organised crime and that in all likelihood the players were forced by duress to fix a majority of the matches alleged.

There are two major questions that the TIU and its stakeholders need to answer in light of the allegations: 1. Has the TIU fully investigated all intelligence passed to it, from whatever source, about suspected match-fixing in the upper echelons of tennis? 2. Is the TIU fit for purpose in the face of the scale of the threat? If the answer to one turns out to be no, then by definition the answer to the second question also has to be no.

Further as to the second question, there is a clear and inherent conflict of interest in the current system whereby the four grand slams, the two professional tours and the international federation are ‘shareholders’ in the TIU. Even if it turns out to be only a perceived conflict, the sport’s integrity operation should be run by an independent body, as should be the case for most sports, with cleat parallels being drawn with the major problems with the administration of the anti-doping programs in athletics.

It is also worth noting that the job of the TIU is made all the easier by the fact that the TACP standard of proof is only on the preponderance of the evidence (i.e. balance of probabilities) and not the higher standard of comfortable satisfaction as recommended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in match-fixing and corruption cases.

There are a couple of other basic flaws in the current approach by the TIU. First, there is seemingly no confidential reporting mechanism for participants other than players and those outside the sport who have potentially valuable intelligence. Secondly, the TACP document on the website has no date stated on it so it is not clear when it is effective.

This is only the beginning of what we believe will be a bitter and painful period for one of the world’s most popular sports. There will also be other sports who will be sitting uncomfortably about their own approach to manipulation and betting integrity and whether they will be the next ones to be ‘outed’. Once again the media has led the way in asking serious questions about the integrity and governance of sport. For all the irresponsible journalism in sport, this story has once again shown how valuable the media can be in if nothing else stoking a genuine and serious debate where systems in sport are inadequate for the modern world.

By Kevin Carpenter, Principal & Consultant, who can be contacted at [email protected]