The world of tennis was reportedly rocked by a Buzzfeed/BBC investigative report that alleged that up to 70 tennis professionals, including 16 who had been in the top 50 and included winners of singles and doubles titles at Grand Slam events, had taken money for fixing matches, either deliberately losing or arranging for their opponent to lose. Players were offered $50,000 or more for fixing games and gambling syndicates made hundreds of thousands of dollars in return. The fixing was suspected after investigators looked at suspicious bets placed on events.
Players were widely rumoured to be “tanking” – deliberately forfeiting matches by not giving their best efforts – when they were tired or carrying minor injuries and wanted to preserve their energy for more important tournaments. Sometimes, it was said, players would carve up the spoils of victory: One would deliberately lose but get to keep the prize money, while the other would win and bag the coveted ranking points. Now, however, the ballooning phenomenon of online gambling meant billions of pounds were being bet each year on tennis, and a tip about a player’s intention to tank a match could yield vast winnings. Prize money at lesser tournaments can be paltry, and a year on the tennis tour can set a player back more than £100,000, making it tempting to cash in on the occasional fix.
“If you were to invent a sport that was tailor-made for match-fixing, the sport that you would invent would be called tennis,” [Richard Ings] said. “It doesn’t take much effort on a player to throw a match without the opponent or the officials or the fans or even the media being aware. Where it does become apparent is in the betting market.”
The worlds of cricket, football, and athletics have also been tarred by allegations of players accepting money from gambling interests to influence their performances. I have stopped being surprised at these reports of cheating in high-level sports. There is so much money sloshing around professional and so much being wagered on outcomes and performances that it is inevitable that such things would occur. I am just surprised that we don’t hear of more such things.
What is also disturbing are allegations that the organizations that oversee these sports and should be policing them to prevent corruption seem to have shown little interest in taking action on the charges, preferring to try and maintain the image that they are untainted.
ProPublica had an interview with one of the authors of the report.