London (AFP) – Lower-level tennis has a “tsunami”-like problem with match-fixing, according to a review panel set up to look into allegations of corruption in the sport which published its findings on Wednesday.
The Independent Review Panel (IRP) says there is a “very significant” corruption problem at “lower and middle levels of the sport”, and especially in the men’s game.
The panel was set up in January 2016 following allegations made by the BBC and Buzzfeed that leading players, including Grand Slam winners, were involved in suspected match-fixing and that evidence had been suppressed.
The panel — which spoke to over 100 players and according to the BBC cost £20 million ($27.9 million, 22.8 million euros) to fund — found no evidence to support those allegations.
However, the highest level competitions and governing bodies did not escape criticism.
Investigation at Grand Slam events was deemed “insufficient” by the report, while other enquiries were “inappropriate or ineffective, resulting in missed opportunities”.
The ATP, the governing body of men’s professional tennis, were also found to be guilty of “failing to exhaust potential leads before ending investigations”.
The panel claimed tennis faces a “serious integrity problem”, particularly at the lower levels of the sport where players often struggle to break even, and especially on the men’s circuits.
The panel made several recommendations to tackle corruption because it believes the current system used by the TIU (Tennis Integrity Unit) and international governing bodies is “inadequate to deal with the nature and extent of the problem now faced”.
Phil Suddick, information manager at the TIU, told AFP in a rare interview in September last year the unit sees a focus on education as crucial to combatting corruption within the sport.
Suddick, a police officer for 30 years investigating global organised crime, also put the issue of betting-related corruption into context.
His unit received 292 match alerts in 2016 — from 120,000 professional matches covering the whole game from the futures tour to the Grand Slams — where betting operators believed the betting patterns were suspicious.
Suddick said to nip such practises in the bud it is necessary to address the junior players and their parents.
“It is the parents who tend to be coaches and the people who travel with them and it is they who will notice a sponsorship deal that isn’t really one,” said Suddick.
“This could be a person who pays for flights and hotels, which is the thin end of the wedge, but the wedge can grow into something larger down the line.
“We have to educate the entourage around the juniors from the coach, the parents to the hitting partner and others involved.
“They come into the sport as juniors and they need to have all the tools at their disposal to cope with those who wish to corrupt them.
“For me, education is probably the strongest and most important measure to protect the sport in the long term.”