More than three times as many matches may have been fixed in tennis last year than in all other sports put together, according to shocking statistics that lay bare the scale of suspicious betting at t-ournaments.
Tennis was still reeling last night from claims that suspected fixing - including at Wimbledon - had gone unpunished during the past decade, with grand-slam champions implicated in the alleged scandal.
The All England Club contacted its members yesterday (Monday) in an attempt to reassure them after the sport's leaders strenuously denied suppressing evidence of corruption supplied to them by independent investigators and betting watchdogs. Those watchdogs have r-ecorded an exponential growth in suspicious activity around tennis in recent years, despite the game a-ccounting for only a fraction of the sports-betting market.
A trio of reports by the European Sports Security Association shows that during the first three quarters of last year it raised 49 suspicious-activity alerts about tennis with the authorities. ESSA - the 18 members of which include William Hill, -Ladbrokes, Sky Bet and bet365 - raised just 16 such alerts across all other sports in the same period.
The fourth-quarter figures are due to be released soon and The Daily Telegraph understands they will show a similar pattern, which would take close to 70 the number of suspicious alerts in tennis last year. To put those figures into -context, football was responsible for the next highest number of alerts during the first three quarters of last year, with 11.
Assuming that rose to 15 for all of 2015, the world's most gambled-on sport, on which at least six times as much is wagered than in tennis, would have accounted for less than a quarter the number of alerts.
More alarming still is the fact that ESSA figures show that the number of suspicious alerts across sport has surged from four in 2010 to what is likely to have been close to 90 last year, thanks almost exclusively to tennis.
Growth in the membership of ESSA - one of the few not-for-profit watchdogs - during that period may account for some of the increase. But the organisation deals only with the regulated betting market, and the potential for corruption in the unregulated markets is even greater, particularly in football and cricket.
Suspicious alerts of themselves are also not enough to prove match-fixing has taken place but they are a key indicator of foul play that requires further investigation by the authorities.
In the case of tennis, that is the Tennis Integrity Unit, which - -according to the BBC and BuzzFeed investigation that obtained leaked details of suspected fixed matches - was repeatedly alerted by ESSA to the names of 15 players warranting further scrutiny. One was said to have prompted four separate alerts due to his "relentless abuse" but no one has been sanctioned.
The BBC and BuzzFeed also reported that, by 2011, Betfair had flagged up to the TIU at least 20 players who were attracting heavily skewed betting on their matches, none of whom faced punishment.
It was said that Betfair was not asked to supply further information about many of the betting accounts involved.
Industry insiders told the Telegraph yesterday that while they had no reason to doubt the integrity of the TIU, they felt it had been too timid in pursuing cases in which guilt might be difficult to prove. One compared tennis unfavourably to snooker, which was applauded for what was perceived to be a more risk-taking approach to charging players with corruption, with its successful prosecution of Stephen Lee, who is serving a 12-year ban, cited as one example.
Tennis sought to play down its match-fixing problem yesterday, with the executive of the All -England Club, Richard Lewis, -writing to its members. In a letter seen by the Telegraph, Lewis -acknowledged there were some in the sport "who seek personal gain through corrupt activity". He -added: "Indeed, this is the very reason the Tennis Integrity Unit, the body which investigates alerts of corruption on the authorities' behalf, was set up in the first place.
"The facts are that every known case is actively and thoroughly followed up, but there is a world of difference between irregular betting patterns and hard evidence sufficient to form the basis for a successful prosecution. I would also add that Wimbledon has always been at the forefront of ensuring the TIU is properly funded and all requests for funding by the TIU received immediate support from the governing bodies of the sport."
This week's match-fixing revelations completely overshadowed the start of the Australian Open, at which Chris Kermode, the Englishman in charge of the Association of Tennis Professionals, mounted a robust defence of the TIU.
"The TIU and the tennis authorities absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match fixing has been suppressed for any reason or isn't being thoroughly investigated," he said. "Betting patterns on their own are not proof of misconduct. You need to be able to prove a connection between the player and the corruptor, and if you can't do that, the case will be thrown out of a court of law."
Pointing out that BuzzFeed and the BBC had not published the names of players mentioned in the leaked report, Kermode said: "-BuzzFeed and the BBC talk about players they have identified, but say they have chosen not to name them for legal reasons, so they have the same problem."