CHENNAI/MELBOURNE: Fixing scandals have been coming to the fore an awful lot of late. From Serie A to Lance Armstrong to IPL to FIFA, most sports have had to come to terms with the nature of the beast. All this while, tennis had remained relatively free of such base chatter. With golf, it forwarded the idea that they’re two of a kind — gentleman’s games. Post Monday though, the narrative has changed a little.
The BBC and BuzzFeed News published a damning report that’s bound to have repercussions. Citing a leaked cache of secret files, they allege that a “core group” of 16 players who reached the top 50 in the past decade, including Grand Slam winners, have repeatedly caused suspicion but never faced sanction. The report claims 10 are playing Down Under. Mark Phillips, one of the investigators in the 2008 probe, told the BBC: “There was a core of about 10 players that we believed were the most common perpetrators.”
The report hasn’t released the names of any of the accused “because without access to phone, bank, or computer records it is not possible to prove a link between the players and the gamblers.”
The ATP president Chris Kermode rejected suggestions that evidence had been covered up, saying “while the BBC and BuzzFeed reports refer to events from about 10 years ago, we will investigate any new information, and we always do.”
Even Novak Djokovic recalled when he was approached indirectly back in 2007. “...I was approached through people that were working with me at that time, that were with my team. Of course, we threw it away right away. It didn’t even get to me, the guy that was trying to talk, he didn’t get to me directly. There was nothing out of it.”
Roger Federer called for the names to be released, adding that “super aggressive” action is needed. “I would love to hear names. Then at least it’s concrete stuff and you can actually debate about it. Was it the player? Was it the support team? Who was it? Was it before? Was it a doubles player, a singles player? Which Slam? It’s so all over the place. It’s nonsense to answer something that is pure speculation.”
The ghost of fixing had reared its head even in India. Daniel Kollerer, banned in 2011 for fixing, claimed he was approached at the 2009 Chennai Open to throw a first-round match for $50,000. Mahesh Bhupathi once said he had been approached to fix a Davis Cup match, while Asian Games gold medallist Gaurav Natekar said he was approached in Hiroshima in 1994.
Contacted by Express, Natekar refused to comment on the current matter, but said, “There’s no smoke without a fire. Authorities concerned must nip this in the bud, otherwise it’ll become too big.”
Interestingly one of the Open’s major sponsors is William Hill, a betting site. “It’s a fine line. Honestly it’s borderline,” Djokovic said. “Whether you want to have betting companies in big tournaments, it’s hard to say what’s right.”
The ATP said they had found no evidence of rule-breaking by Vassallo Arguello or Davydenko. But the files reveal that the former had exchanged 82 texts at a previous event with the suspected ringleader of an Italian gambling syndicate
The whistleblowers who handed over the files wanted to remain anonymous. But three investigators who conducted the probe said the evidence they found was “as strong as any evidence we’ve had” and the authorities “did nothing”
The ATP’s Richard Ings, former executive vice president for rules and competition, had compiled a list of 20 players who had been implicated in suspicious matches flagged by bookmakers – including both Davydenko and Vassallo Arguello
Players were widely rumoured to be “tanking” – deliberately forfeiting matches by not giving their best efforts – when they were tired or carrying minor injuries and wanted to preserve their energy for more important tournaments
It was said, players would carve up the spoils of victory: one would deliberately lose but get the prize money, while the other would bag the coveted ranking points