A Russian bookmaker, Fonbet, noticed some unusual betting wherein high amount of wages were placed on the underdogs and reported it to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) in the August 30th first round US Open match between 15th seed Timea Bacinsky of Switzerland and Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia. Both Bacinsky and Diatchenko were out by the second round and their coaches were gone too.
The TIU was established in 2008 as an investigative unit with the prime objective of keeping the sport free from all notorious activities like gambling, match fixing and other possible means of cheating. Earlier this year, the BBC and BuzzFeed News had released reports which stated that a group of 16 players was involved in match-fixing all of whom were in the top 50 rankings. According to the report, the players suspected included a US Open champion and doubles winners at Wimbledon, who had been repeatedly reported for losing matches when highly suspicious bets were placed against them. Also on the list was a top-50 player competing in the Australian Open who had been suspected of repeatedly fixing his first set. In response to the report, Chris Kermode, chairman of the ATP, said that there is no hard-core evidence against those players and the TIU is the one who has to work upon this now. He emphasized on the fact that “information is not evidence.”
The report further said that in major tournaments, the players were approached by the bookies in hotel rooms at major tournaments and offered $50,000 or more per fix. The gambling houses mainly based in Russia, Italy and Sicily made a huge amount of money from matches that took place even during auspicious tournaments like Wimbledon and French Open. The investigation was based on a cache of leaked documents from the 2008 probe, titled, the Fixing Files and current analysis of betting activity on 26,000 matches, including interviews with gambling and match-fixing experts, tennis officials and players. Over the past decade, more than 70 players names have shown up on nine leaked lists of suspected fixers. 15 of them were betting on players that were least favorable to win the match given the odds. None of them have been sanctioned by the tennis authorities. The TIU, since 2008 has warned 13 low-ranking male players and banned five players for fixing. Though, a few authorities at the BBC and BuzzFeed news and a few officials holding high positions at the ATP were unhappy with the way the TIU denied the fixing reports and took the matter casually when they were handed the report earlier this year.
In the latest betting suspicion, TIU spokesperson, Mark Harrison has confirmed that there was definitely a betting alert in the match between Bacinsky and Diatchenko. Harrison also said that the exact amount of wager and detailed specifics of the gamble are yet to be investigated upon. Officials at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) have bestowed their faith in the TIU stating that the betting alerts were alarming but not authoritative evidence. The suspicion was strengthened when another betting site, Bet365, had strong doubts on the heavy wages placed due to which they had to pause the betting for two games midway the match. The TIU was also uncertain in the manner in which the reports were released. The word “leak” was tagged while stating the allegations.
“There are many reasons other than the corrupt activity that can explain unusual betting patterns,” stated the TIU. It enlisted “incorrect odds-setting, well-informed betting, player fitness, fatigue, and form, playing conditions and personal circumstances” as factors which could act as a cue for betting sites and groups to spark a red light.
“Publicising match alerts is premature and inevitably draws unwarranted attention to the players involved in the match. Under the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program, all players are considered innocent unless proven otherwise at an independent anti-corruption hearing,” the TIU said.
Whether the matches are fixed or not is still a matter to be scrutinized. If it turns out to be the worst possible scenario, let us hope that the TIU draws some stricter codes of conduct without any further delay for the players and the people associated with the dark and undesirable circle of gambling.