Sunday 4 December 2016

James McGee: 'It's a very difficult sport when you're not at the very top'

Irish No 1 James McGee reveals his shock at sport's fixing allegations - despite the difficulties of life on Tour

Cathal Dennehy

Published 21/01/2016 | 02:30

Irish tennis number one James McGee (Getty)
Irish tennis number one James McGee (Getty)

Ireland's leading tennis player James McGee believes match-fixing is not widespread at the top level, and says that in eight years as a professional, he has never been approached to lose a match.

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Reports this week alleged that 16 players ranked in the world top 50 over the last decade have been suspected of match-fixing, with eight reportedly playing at this year's Australian Open, which began in Melbourne on Monday.

McGee, who is ranked 198th in the world, spoke to the Irish Independent shortly before leaving Melbourne and said the allegations took him by surprise.

"It's terrible if it's happening, but I myself have been unaware of it," he said. "If it's true, then it's shameful, but I don't think it's very widespread."

The 28-year-old Dubliner has played professionally since 2008, and has been ranked inside the top 200 in the world for much of the past two years.

Last week, he fell just short of reaching the main draw at the Australian Open, losing out to Germany's Daniel Brands in the final qualifying round.

Having slowly graduated through the tiers of the men's game - from ITF to Challenger to the top-level ATP tour - he feels the match-fixing problem is more prevalent at lower levels.

Bottom

"Most guys at the top of the sport certainly don't need the money," he said. "It's the players down at the bottom who are losing money most weeks who you'd think would be inclined to do it.

"If there was talk (on the circuit), it was more about it being at the lower level."

However, the investigation by the BBC and Buzzfeed News claimed that an unnamed Grand Slam winner was among those under suspicion, while earlier this week, world No 1 Novak Djokovic spoke about refusing a $200,000 offer to lose a first-round match in St Petersburg in 2006.

"I'm close with a lot of players in the top 100," says McGee, "and from the people I know, it would be shocking to think they would lose a match on purpose.

"We're all competitive people and I can't see them doing that."

When McGee was first ranked inside the world's top 200, he attended a mandatory three-day course run by the governing body of men's tennis, the ATP, where he was instructed on how to behave if he encountered a suspected match-fixer.

"I can only speak from experience, but I've never been approached by someone to lose a match," he said. "If I was, the first thing we were told to do is take it to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU)."

The TIU, which was set up in 2008, has come under fire this week after claims it failed to adequately investigate allegations brought to the attention of authorities almost a decade ago.

A confidential report in 2007 examined 26,000 matches and detailed how players were targeted at major tournaments and offered $50,000 or more for each game they threw, but no players were disciplined as a result.

In light of this week's controversy, McGee hopes authorities will now devote more resources to the fight against corruption.

"They need to guarantee there'll be zero match-fixing," he said. "They've got investigators on it, but until they can guarantee matches have been lost on purpose, it's all speculation.

"We get notice of players that have received bans for doping or betting on matches, and we're all aware of those players, but these 16 (suspected match-fixers) who are inside the top 50, I don't have a clue who they are."

Despite having a Grand Slam appearance to his name - McGee made the first round at the US Open in 2014 - the financial rewards for mid-ranking professionals like him are not what most imagine.

"It's still just covering my costs," he said. "I'm relying heavily on sponsorship and it's something I have to address every single week.

"My goal is to break inside the top 100 and remain there, so I can actually make a bit of money and do what I want to do, but it's very tough."

As such, he knows why match fixing could be tempting for lower-ranked players, but he thinks - hopes - it hasn't become a major issue at the highest level.

"The players that can't make the top-100 scrape by week to week, spending pennies and making pennies," he said.

"It really is a very, very difficult sport when you're not at the top. I would say if there are people doing it, then it's a tiny percentage. I don't want to believe a lot of players are losing matches on purpose."

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