The anti-corruption body for tennis has reported that the number of suspicious betting alerts in the first quarter of 2019 has hit a record low. The numbers come from the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), which began publishing the number of betting alerts in 2015.
Over the first three months of 2019, the TIU issued 21 alerts. This compares to 38 over the same time period last year and 77 reported over the last quarter of 2018. The significant drop in alerts corresponds to massive efforts on behalf of professional tennis at tackling the widespread corruption that threatens the very underpinnings of the sport.
Match Fixing Alerts Lead to Investigations
The reports filed led to investigations and, in some cases, suspensions of tennis players. The vast majority (20 out of the 21) of alerts related to the ITF World Tennis Tour or the ATP Challenger tennis circuits. No reports were received from Grand Slam or ATP Tour events.
It’s important to note that not all alerts necessarily mean match fixing or something underhanded has taken place. In many instances, other factors play a part in unusual outcomes or betting patterns, such as playing conditions, incorrect odds-settings and the occasional savvy bet.
The breakdown of alerts is as follows:
- The most alerts came from the ITF WTT Men’s $15,000 series. Eight out of the 21 alerts originated from this circuit.
- The ATP Challenger series produced five alerts.
- The ITF WTT women’s $15,000 events pinged four alerts.
- Two alerts came out of the ITF WTT Men’s $25,000 series.
- One alert from the IFF WTT Women’s $25,000 circuit.
- One alert from the WTA Tour circuit.
Regulated Gambling Industry Plays Big Role in Anti-Corruption
It could be said that the online sports betting industry plays a significant role in keeping the number of corruption cases down in tennis (and in other sports as well). The Tennis Integrity Unit has confidential Memorandums of Understanding with multiple gambling operators who report unusual betting patterns to the TIU.
The TIU follows up on each alert and usually perform a comprehensive investigation of the event. The ultimate objective is to catch tennis players or officials who are guilty of match fixing and handing out appropriate punishments such as bans, fines or suspensions.
Bringing the Heavyweights Onboard
For the activities of the Tennis Integrity Unit to work, the group must have some clout. That begins with having the right manpower onboard to help investigate and follow up on findings. Earlier this year, Sport England CEO, Jennie Price was named Independent Chair of the TIU’s advisory board. Other independent members have also been brought on board.
In addition, a former law enforcement officer who served with the London Metropolitan Police for nearly three decades was also added to the team. Mark Fletcher will continue to help the TIU with their investigative efforts.
Educating Tennis Players Against Match Fixing
It is not for nothing that most of the alerts originate from lower-ranking tennis circuits, where players vie for prizes that are much smaller by far than Grand Slam rewards. The attraction of earning a guaranteed few thousand dollars for deliberately losing a match or even just a set can be quite tempting for poorly-paid players on the lower levels of the sport.
With that in mind, the TIU has made it a priority to launch a series of educational initiatives for players (from junior to professional levels), as well as coaches and staff. The unit has created an app and updated it with new features so that players and other interest parties can keep up with the changes to rules and regulations.
Tennis Europe created an educational video in order to deliver a message to junior players. Also, any player that receives a Grand Slam or ITF Development Fund Grant is required to take part in a series of educational meetings, made compulsory under their contracts.
Recent Wave of Tennis Suspensions
Thanks to the work carried out by the Tennis Integrity Unit, the industry has seen a wave of investigations and subsequent suspensions. Most recently, Brazil’s Joao Souza, who ranks 404th in the world, was provisionally suspended from professional tennis.
Independent Anti-Corruption Hearing Officer, Professor Richard H. McLaren, speaking for the TIU this week, explained that Souza’s suspension relates to an investigation by the Unit into alleged breaches of the Anti-Corruption program. The suspension came into effect on March 29th, 2019. Souza last played at the Santiago Challenger last month. His highest-ever ranking was 69 in the world and he turned professional in 2006.
“This means that Mr. Souza is prohibited from competing in, or attending, any sanctioned event organized by the governing bodies of the sport for the duration of his suspension,” said the TIU, adding that the Unit “is an initiative of the Grand Slam board, the International Tennis Federation, the ATP and the WTA, who are jointly committed to a zero tolerance approach to corruption in tennis.”
Last month, the Tennis Integrity Unit took harsh steps against Chilean player Mauricio Alvarez-Guzman. The 31-year-old was banned from tennis for life after it was found that he had bribed his opponent $1,130 to lose a set during 2016 tournament in Germany.
The 1050th ranked player had now been “permanently excluded from competing in or attending any tournament or event organized or sanctioned by the governing bodies of the sport,” the TIU is quoted by the Santiago Times.
European match fixers were also caught out by the TIU. David Norfeldt, a Swedish tennis player who is currently a sophomore in San Diego, was fined $6,000 for betting on tennis matches contrary to TIU rules. Norfeldt was also suspended from playing for eight months. His punishment was relatively light because although he wagered on 195 matches, he did not play in any of them.
The TIU said that if the 20-year-old Norfeldt doesn’t contravene any other rules over the next four months, he will have the suspension lifted and his fine will be cut in half.