Friday 24 November 2017

Tennis must get 'super-aggressive' to stop match-fix cheats: Federer

Roger Federer of Switzerland returns a forehand in his first round match against Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia at the Australian Open in Melbourne Photo: Quinn Rooney / Getty Images
Roger Federer of Switzerland returns a forehand in his first round match against Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia at the Australian Open in Melbourne Photo: Quinn Rooney / Getty Images
ATP chairman Chris Kermode speaks during a press conference at the Australian Open Photo: AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama
World No.1 Novak Djokovic in action yesterday Photo: Quinn Rooney / Getty Images

Simon Briggs

Roger Federer has called for tennis to get "super-aggressive" against match-fixing after news broke of a host of suspicious betting patterns that have placed the integrity of the whole sport in doubt.

The claims, levelled by the BBC in conjunction with the website BuzzFeed, suggest that a group of up to 16 repeat offenders have been allowed to distort matches at all levels of the game without being prosecuted by the Tennis Integrity Unit.

And while the authors of the report said they did not have enough evidence to identify the individuals by name, Federer argued that there is enough doubt to motivate a stronger response from the authorities.

"It's like I can always train more - there's always more you can do," he said. "So a story like this is only going to increase the pressure. Hopefully there's more funding to it. Same as doping.

"You've got to be super aggressive in both areas. It's just really important that all the governing bodies and all the people involved take it very seriously, that the players know about it."

All the leading players were asked about the story on a day when the opening matches of the Australian Open felt somewhat devalued. Earlier, Novak Djokovic had described the unsettling moment in his own career when he was offered €130,000 to throw a match at the St Petersburg tournament in 2007.

"I was not approached directly," he said, "but through people that were working with me at that time, that were with my team. Of course, we threw it away right away.

"The guy that was trying to talk to me, he didn't even get to me directly. Unfortunately there were some, in those times, those days, rumours, some talks, some people were going around. They were dealt with. In the last six, seven years, I haven't heard anything similar."

The head of Tennis Ireland Des Allen said the allegations did not come as a shock but he insisted no Irish players were involved.

According to insiders, match-fixing was rife in the mid-2000s, but then the celebrated Solpot match of 2007 - in which €4.5m was staked on Betfair for an otherwise obscure encounter between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello - changed the playing field.

The following year, the Tennis Integrity Unit was set up. And while the BBC/BuzzFeed story argues that the TIU is underfunded and lacking in specialist gambling analysts, its creation has scared off some of the more blatant offenders. Fixing continues to be rife at the lower level events on the Challenger and Futures tours, however, while isolated incidents still show up all the way to the very top of the game, including at the grand slams.

The authors of the report suggested that the findings of a 2007 enquiry into the Solpot match should have been used to pursue a group of around 10 regular match-fixers, at least eight of whom are still in the game and were due to play at the Australian Open. They quoted Mark Phillips - who worked on that enquiry - as saying "They could have got rid of a network of players that would have almost completely cleared the sport up. We gave them everything tied up with a nice pink bow on top and they took no action at all."

But Chris Kermode, the Englishman who runs the world tour, mounted a robust defence of the TIU in Melbourne. "The TIU and the tennis authorities absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match fixing has been suppressed for any reason or isn't being thoroughly investigated," Kermode told a packed press-conference room.

"Betting patterns on their own are not proof of misconduct," he added. "You need to be able to prove a connection between the player and the corruptor, and if you can't do that, the case will be thrown out of a court of law.

Irish Independent

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