Heidi Blake of BuzzFeed

Heidi Blake of BuzzFeed says that tennis authorities ignored corruption warnings

BuzzFeed News say that tennis authorities have failed to deal with widespread match-fixing despite repeated warnings

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (JANUARY 18, 2016) (REUTERS) – World tennis was rocked on Monday (January 18) by allegations that the game’s authorities have failed to deal with widespread match-fixing, just as the Australian Open, the first grand slam tournament of the year, kicked off in Melbourne.

Tennis authorities rejected reports by the BBC and online BuzzFeed News, which said 16 players who have been ranked in the top 50 had been repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) over suspicions they had thrown matches in the past decade.

“Once we had the data that showed there was a pattern of this happening in tennis we started digging, and we teamed up with the BBC and obtained a cache of leaked documents from whistleblowers inside the sport which actually show that tennis authorities have been repeatedly warned, time and time again, about a core group of 16 players, all of whom are ranked in the top 50, and eight of whom are now competing at the Australian Open,” said Heidi Blake of Buzzfeed News.

Blake said the TIU, set up to police illegal activities in tennis, either failed to act upon information that identified suspicious behaviour amongst players, or impose any sanctions.

“I find it strange because what we’ve seen is a kind of whole file of really compelling evidence which was given to the Tennis Integrity Unit back in 2008, after a landmark investigation into match-fixing, which reported there were 28 players who the investigators suspected were implicated in match-fixing which was being orchestrated by gambling syndicates in Sicily and northern Italy, and in Russia around Moscow and that evidence was compelling,” she said. “In one case they actually had 82 text messages exchanged between a player and a Sicilian gambler who cashed in massively on that players matches, and this was all given to the authorities and they did absolutely nothing. They’ve admitted to us they didn’t investigate that evidence and we can see from our other files that the same players names are coming up again and again and again.”

Reuters was unable to independently verify the findings by the BBC and BuzzFeed News, which said they had obtained documents that included the findings of an investigation set up in 2007 by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the governing body of men’s professional tennis.

The BBC and BuzzFeed News said they had not named any players because without access to their phone, bank and computer records it was not possible to determine whether they took part in match-fixing.

Speaking in Melbourne world number one Novak Djokovic said a member of his staff was approached about fixing a match early in his career.

Djokovic said that as far as he was aware there was no longer a problem with what he described as a “crime in sport” at the top level of tennis, but added that he had once been approached indirectly to throw a match when in 2007, an offer of $200,000 was made at the St Petersburg Open in Russia, a tournament he did not ultimately play in.

Blake disagreed with the 28-year-old Serb who said that although he was confident there was no longer a problem at the top level, he could not speak for further down the tennis rankings.

“I think the players who have been disciplined in the past by the tennis authorities for fixing offences have all been right at the very bottom level, really low ranking

players. What our files show is that actually this goes much much higher, these are players at the upper levels of the game in the top 50,” Blake said.

“I think what Djokovic has said today is really interesting because he was approached as a young player and offered a lot of money and I think that a lot of these players, if they get approached when they’re young and they’re finding it very expensive to pay for a whole tennis tour, the prize money at the lower level is fairly paltry, it can be really tempting to receive an offer for $200,000, and once you’ve fixed one match they’ve got you over a barrel, you can’t ever get out of it because they have the information that you’ve done that and so I think you’re kind of stuck,” she added.

“We’re hearing from multiple sources and the evidence we’re seeing in our files really suggests that this is a problem across the breadth and depth of the game. It’s widespread, it’s happening at all levels, it is quite deep-rooted, and I think it’s going to take a lot for tennis to really crack down on it effectively, and so yes I think there does need to be a full investigation. It needs to be transparent, the results should be published, and I guess tennis really needs to figure out a roadmap to really reforming the game.”