A report in London's Sunday Telegraph this week alleges that some top international tennis players could be deliberately fixing their matches to make money through betting, specifically through betting exchanges.
Officials for the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) said Monday that they are taking the allegations very seriously and are looking into all of them to maintain the integrity of the sport. The ATP isn't verifying the allegations or providing any specifics about any investigations, although it did sign a memorandum of understanding with Betfair on Oct. 1, 2003, allowing access to punter records in the case of suspected match-fixing.
The Telegraph article claims that an inside source has delivered much information about suspicious betting on tennis matches. It reports that the ATP became aware of a problem in June and began investigating it when certain first-round tournament matches began attracting a greater turnover on betting exchanges than they had in the past.
"At a clutch of tournaments across the globe in the past few months, the betting on certain first-round matches has been more than twice as much as the rest of the first-round matches put together," the newspaper reported.
The Telegraph also reported that bookmakers halted betting on one of this year's Wimbledon matches involving a high-profile player because bookmakers became aware that one of the coaches was placing bets. Additionally, an ATP trainer offered to help a bookmaker by informing it of injuries and other inside information, even though this would breach ATP rules.
No names have been given in any of these cases.
Two questionable matches in particular have so far been specifically mentioned in British newspapers. The first occurred Aug. 18, 2003 and involved Jarkko Neiminen and Feliciano Lopez, who was favored to win the match but had to forfeit early in the second set because of an illness. Very large sums were apparently placed on Neiminen to win. Some speculate that the irregular betting pattern could indicate that someone had obtained inside information about Lopez' condition and therefore knew that he would lose the match. The ATP's vice president of rules and regulations, Richard Ings, has requested a supervisor's report into the matter.
Another round of suspicious betting occurred last week on the match between Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Fernando Vicente, who had not won a match in his last 11 first-round tournament appearances. Fixed-odds bookmakers suspended betting six hours before their match because £80,000 had been placed on Vicente to upset Kafelnikov. Vicente ended up winning because Kafelnikov played with an injured left foot.
Still, Ings and other ATP officials decline to comment when asked if any players are under investigation. The day after the Telegraph broke its story, Nicola Arzani, an ATP spokesperson, said, "Anything suspicious will be looked into. The ATP is taking everything seriously. The integrity of tennis in paramount."
And although the ATP has been reluctant to reveal much information about its investigations, its efforts to maintain the sport's integrity are evidenced by the memorandum signed with Betfair.
The concern with tennis, as with horse racing, is that betting exchanges allow punters to offer their own odds, rather than just accepting what a bookmaker provides. Hypothetically, a player who is favored by the odds or someone connected to him could place a large wager with the odds staggered against him. He could then purposely lose the match and collect more money from losing than he might have collected in prize money, especially if most of the players under suspicion are not ranked within the top 100, which is what the Telegraph's source says.
The memorandum of understanding would allow the ATP to request the identities and betting records of Betfair users when a match produces irregular betting patterns. If a case like the above were to happen, the ATP could ask Betfair if any usual bets had been placed on the match, and if Betfair verifies that there indeed had been, it will turn over the identity and betting history of the individuals who placed the bets. The ATP could then proceed with an investigation.
Betfair says it respects the privacy of its users and will only reveal information when it is 100 percent certain that the suspicion is warranted.
Betfair encourages all administrative bodies to sign similar agreements. "We will be happy to sign an MOU with any sporting administrator that wants to," said Mark Davies, a spokesman for the company. "It's not for Betfair to assess whether there is corruption in a sport, it is for the people who police the sport to make that judgment, but they must have access to information that will help them reach a decision."
In theory, the memorandum should go a long way in maintaining integrity by keeping tennis players or others connected to them out of betting exchanges. Betfair is the only betting exchange to offer such a memorandum.
Meanwhile, the ATP is expected to continue its investigation. Any player found guilty of match fixing will be fined $100,000 and banned for three years, which is likely long enough to end a career.
Feliciano Lopez, the player who in August had to quit a match early due to sickness, is appalled at the Telegraph's allegations. He said in a statement through his management on Tuesday, "Echoes of a news item published by the English press associating me with the supposed rigging of a match" could be the subject of legal action." He added, "As you know, I withdrew due to an injury, which I'm able to evidence at any time."
His opponent, Jarkko Nieminen, has said, "He retired against me, but he had been throwing up the whole day. He was really terrible on the day, he really couldn't play, he really couldn't finish the match."
Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the man named for match fixing last week has also been vocal since the allegations. The former No. 1ranked player said, "When I go into the locker room, players look at me like I am their worst enemy because of what was written, and it's bullshit. . . . Somebody has to be punished for this. It says that I have been involved in match-fixing and it tears me apart. I would like to see gambling out of the picture."