(Image credit: Tourism Victoria)
When the 2018 Australian Open kicks off on 15 January, tennis fans will not be the only ones with their eyes glued to the courts and to international betting markets. Tennis integrity officials from Australia and abroad will also be closely watching the event and associated betting markets for any sign of corruption or match-fixing.
Player storylines and performances will undoubtedly dominate the news, but there will also be an undercurrent driving certain stories as officials look to protect the integrity of tennis following the explosive corruption scandal that erupted during the 2016 edition of Australia’s biggest tennis event and investigations into possible match-fixing at two 2017 Grand Slam events.
The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), Tennis Australia Integrity and Compliance, Victoria’s Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, Queensland and South Australian Police, the AFP, ASADA and the Australian Sports Commission will all be in attendance and on the lookout for evidence of wrongdoings at the Australian Open.
The Australian reports the TIU and Tennis Australia’s integrity unit have already met to “fine-tune” their game plan ahead of the Australian Open. Those units plus local law enforcement units and other sports governing bodies have agreed to increased information-sharing in an effort to more effectively stamp out corruption in all Australian sports.
Tennis Australia will also host the Future of Sports Integrity conference on Monday, which is expected to be attended by officials from all of Australia’s major sports bodies, the TIU and law-enforcement.
Ann West, head of Tennis Australia’s integrity unit and host of the conference, told the Australian, “We continue to take every step possible to safeguard the integrity of our sport. We have worked hard to foster closer relationships with the integrity units of other major Australian sporting organisations, along with law enforcement agencies both in Australia and overseas. This conference is an important step in continuing this process.”
According to the Herald Sun, Australian Open competitors “will face increased security, including extra restrictions to accreditation access.” Australian bookmakers have also been consulted and ordered to report all signs of suspicious betting activity.
All units tasked with monitoring the event have expressed optimism in their ability to protect this year’s Australian Open from corruption and improve the reputation of the sport. They have also been heartened by a recent report from the TIU that alerts of suspicious matches fell in 2017.
The 2016 Revelations that Rocked Tennis
On the first day of the 2016 Australian Open, the BBC and BuzzFeed announced the results of an investigation into tennis corruption that would rock international tennis and stain the reputation of the Tennis Integrity Unit. The waves from that shocking report continue to reverberate today and will be felt at this year’s Australian Open.
The investigation was spurred after a cache of documents was passed on to the BBC and BuzzFeed. What investigators found inside those documents was evidence that the Tennis Integrity Unit had for years failed to act on reports of match-fixing involving some of the highest-ranked players in tennis.
According to the investigative report, 16 players ranked in the top-50 were repeatedly reported to the Tennis Integrity Unit for suspected participation in match fixing. The list of suspects included winners of Grand Slam titles, yet the Tennis Integrity Unit failed to act despite having a “zero-tolerance” policy regarding corruption.
The Association of Tennis Professionals also passed on a report to the TIU detailing a network of betting syndicates located in Russia, Italy and Sicily who reportedly earned six-figure sums by arranging fixed matches and betting on them. The report stated that three of those matches took place at Wimbledon.
Other players were also flagged to the TIU, but no action was ever taken by the very organization tasked to investigating betting corruption in tennis. The TIU was slow and clumsy in its initial response to the revelations, but nonetheless remains in charge of rooting out corruption at the highest levels of international tennis and denies it buried evidence of match fixing.
In any case, the 2016 tennis match-fixing scandal remains one of the biggest scandals not just in the history of tennis, but in the history of professional sports. Two years after the bombshell report, the TIU will, like the players on the court, have an opportunity to either bolster or damage its reputation for all the world to see.