Tennis chiefs on Wednesday announced an independent review of the sport’s anti-corruption unit following a recent expose by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Buzzfeed of possible match-fixing and its alleged cover-ups.
At a media conference at Melbourne Park, Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) president Chris Kermode announced that Adam Lewis QC, a sports law expert, would head the independent review which had been prompted, in part, by the BBC-Buzzfeed report, says Xinhua.
Kermode, International Tennis Federation (ITF) president David Haggerty and Tennis Integrity board chairman and Wimbledon chairman Philip Brook detailed a formal review of the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), the sport’s investigative body for corruption, aimed at shoring up the sport in the aftermath of BBC/Buzzfeed reports that 16 former top-50 players were suspected of engaging in match- fixing.
According to the report, which did not name the players, none of the 16 had been disciplined, although Kermode and other tennis officials have said that there was no cover-up and that suspicious betting patterns are not sufficient proof on their own of match fixing.
“Let me just say that it is unprecedented that the seven stakeholders of tennis have come together so quickly with one purpose, and that is with the sole aim to restore public confidence in our sport,” Kermode told the media.
“All of us, all seven bodies in our sport, believe that with everything in the news and the serious allegations that have been thrown in our sport, that the last thing anyone wants is another sports body investigating itself, which is why we have taken this very bold step to commission a completely independent review.
“This will be an open review, nothing is off the table. Adam Lewis QC and the review panel can look at anything, they can talk to anyone, investigate anything, and the four important points are there is no deadline for this review, it will take as long as is needed. It will cost what it costs.”
Despite labelling some of the media coverage as “disappointing”, the group was in agreement that something drastic needed to be done to address the reports, and help restore the sport’s reputation and credibility.
“Is it the biggest crisis (in tennis history)? I would say, certainly, that the events of the last 10 days have caused damage to our sport; there’s no getting away from that,” Brook said.
“I think we all agree that there were very, very serious allegations and it has caused damage to the sport.”
Kermode was asked whether the TIU would reopen cold cases, including the investigation of tennis players Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello in 2007 if new evidence of match-fixing came to light.
“Absolutely,” Kermode said. “We will act on anything that comes out of this recommendation.”
The BBC expose focused in particular on the Vassallo Arguello-Davydenko match, which attracted millions of dollars’ worth of highly suspicious bets from Russia-based accounts.
It also said 16 (unnamed) players repeatedly feature in gambling analyses of matches that had suspicious betting patterns; eight of those were playing in the current Australian Open at Melbourne Park.
Brook said that the release of the BBC-Buzzfeed report had “changed the environment” around tennis corruption.
“I don’t believe it did reveal anything new, but I think the programme was aired, it was widely written about and it has changed the environment,” Brook said.
“We are very determined to make sure that we demonstrate to all of you today and to everybody around the world that we take this matter very seriously, and that the integrity of our sport is paramount.”
Kermode denied tennis authorities were lagging behind the changing landscape of sport and betting, saying the time was right to investigate any claims of fixing.
“I don’t think it automatically means we are behind the curve, but I think it has provided an opportunity to take a good look,” he said.
“The landscape has changed, we are in a different world and this is clearly the time to have a look.”
Kermode said articles naming players linked to the scandal was “irresponsible”, saying only irregular betting patterns had been identified, not evidence of actual fixing.
“I have seen more lists in the last week of various names and matches. It’s important to point out that having lists which are mainly compiled by suspicious betting patterns … do not mean corruption,” he said.
“They are a red flag and they are investigated. Personally, I think it’s irresponsible for anyone to publish names, verging on libel and we believe any player, until they are proven guilty, should be allowed to play and shouldn’t have their reputation damaged at all.”