Game, Set and Match Fixing?

By Max Edwards

The results of the recent investigation into match fixing conducted by the BBC and Buzzfeed have brought the match-fixing spotlight on to Tennis, and put pressure on the ATP, WTA and ITF to discover how corruption on this scale has gone unnoticed for a prolonged period.

To comprehend how we have reached stage, we must first understand how Tennis’s relationship with the gambling industry has developed over recent years. In 2011, more money than ever before was being bet online on tennis matches, it’s estimated at this point it was already a $22 billion business. Live scoring is crucial for the online gambling industry, as it’s estimated that up to 80% of tennis betting is ‘in-play’, and odds can radically change in seconds depending on the momentum of the match. The data was often supplied by private companies that would sign individual deals with the tournaments and national tennis federations. The WTA and ATP were of the view that if they adopted a uniform policy and took control of their own data, they could greatly increase their potential revenue. The direct result of this was the $70 million dollar deal signed in 2015 between the ITF and the data company “Sportradar” to become the sole data provider for over 1500 tournaments.

The total paid represents a 500% increase on the previous deal and demonstrates the financial gains on offer as Bookmakers interest in tennis continues to grow; it’s currently estimated that in 2016, Tennis has become the second most bet on sport after Football.

The issue facing the Sport’s governing bodies is how to retain the increased profit margins, interest and viewing figures that Tennis’ popularity in gambling circles brings, without jeopardising the integrity of the sport. It has been suggested that the majority of match fixing occurs in the lower tiers of professional Tennis. The limited prize money available to lower ranked players combined with the costs of coaching, travel and acommodation could provide a motive to cooperate with approaching parties.

For many however, these steps are not enough, and there are widespread calls for Tennis as a sport to completely rethink its relationship with the gambling industry. It’s possible that tennis authorities have taken the public backlash to heart. The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) was formed in 2008 to help crack down on such matters. Arguably however the organisation has not doen enough to supress potential fixing of matches. In 2015 the European Sports Security Association who monitor betting for some of the largest bookmakers flagged over fifty matches. The BBC Tennis correspondent Russel Fuller had this to say, “The TIU has a full-time staff of just five and relies on intelligence from players and betting companies to alert them to potential corruption. It is highly debatable whether enough resources are directed towards the TIU, and another potential flaw is that representatives from the sport’s four governing bodies decide whether the evidence gathered is strong enough to be presented to an independent hearing. Professional Tennis Integrity Officers from the ITF, ATP, WTA and the Grand Slams make that call, and as a result the process is not as transparent as it should be.”