CHENNAI: That tennis has harboured both fixers and players looking for a quick buck doesn’t come as a surprise. Widespread reports in the past have alluded to a wider problem and a joint investigation by BBC and BuzzFeed on Monday put the issue front and centre. With it dominating the tennis world, Express spoke to Scott Ferguson, a former head of Education at Betfair (he worked there during the infamous Nikolay Davydenko/Martin Vassallo Arguello case in 2007) to fully understand the issues at hand. Excerpts:
Were you surprised it took so long to come out with such a report?
Not really, the tennis betting world has been resigned to inactivity from authorities for years. They make a big song and dance about sanctioning players for corruption. Ever heard of names such as Elie Rousset, Sergei Krotiouk or Claudia Coppola? No, and neither has anyone else. (All the above mentioned players have been handed fixing bans).
What stood out the most from the report?
The level of detail handed to the ATP in the Davydenko/Vassallo Arguello case is incredible. More than enough information there to kick both players off the tour, but not enough to prosecute a criminal case. But they dropped the ball. When the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) was formed in 2008, why did the new body decide to let all the suspect players be without pursuing further action?
The new laws couldn’t be used retrospectively apparently, although being corrupt/fixing matches was already against the law anyway. If they declared an amnesty, I could understand it — a fresh start and let’s clean the game up. But they didn’t.
Analysing in-play patterns and fixing...
Pre-match favourite loses the first set and then goes down an early break in the second set. Entirely believable situation, but the giveaway is the money flow — enormous amounts of money lining up to back the player seemingly in a desperate position. The bets are made, and lo and behold, the match turns and the player with little hope of winning turns into a Rolls-Royce and runs away with the match. In-play simulation models are used by bookmakers and serious tennis traders around the world. Based on tens of thousands of matches, these are very accurate in determining what the odds of a match should be.
Why exactly has tennis become a fixers’ haven?
Billions, it’s the second biggest sport for betting in the world behind football. Team sports are harder to fix - too many people to get involved, too much money to pay, and too many mouths to keep quiet. A one-on-one sport where winning or losing comes down to matter of inches — it’s perfect for it.
Cricket has already fallen prey to fixing. Isn’t tennis another sport?
Cricket is at risk of spot fixing because of markets like run brackets. There is huge liquidity in these markets. In tennis, not so much. Point and game betting relies on a bookmaker to set the odds, and if they smell something is up, those markets disappear. The real money is in manipulating the odds during a match and betting heavily at the biggest possible prices.
Will betting ban work?
Cricket betting is banned in Asia — how’s that going? Prohibition never works, better to regulate it, license it, tax it, enforce anti-money laundering and anti-fraud regulations, protect the vulnerable, use betting data for forensic investigations of suspicious activity. You will never stop corruption in society — it permeates all parts of life.
What is the logical step to implicate anyone?
True, but at the same time, corruption can still be set up with a handshake and a brown envelope. It’s about linking together a lot of pieces in the puzzle, and the burden of proof in corruption is less than in doping, which is less than a criminal case.
Ferguson, an Australian, is currently a wagering industry consultant. He also maintains a blog (sportismadeforbetting.com).
*2nd rd: Men: Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt Quentin Halys (FRA) 6-1, 6-2, 7-6 (7/3); Gilles Simon (FRA x14) bt Evgeny Donskoy (RUS) 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7/1), 4-6, 7-5; Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA x9) bt Omar Jasika (AUS) 7-5, 6-1, 6-4; Kei Nishikori (JPN x7) bt Austin Krajicek (USA) 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3; Roger Federer (SUI x3) bt Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) 6-3, 7-5, 6-1.
Women: Serena Williams (USA x1) bt Hsieh Su-Wei (TPE) 6-1, 6-2; Maria Sharapova (RUS x5) bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 6-2, 6-1; Agnieszka Radwanska (POL x4) bt Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) 6-4, 6-2; Daria Gavrilova (AUS) bt Petra Kvitova (CZE x6) 6-4, 6-4.
Order of play
@ Rod Laver Arena (from 5.30 am)
Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) v Ana Ivanovic (SRB x20)
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) v
Garbine Muguruza (ESP x3)
Sam Groth (AUS) v
Andy Murray (GBR x2)
David Ferrer (ESP x8) v Lleyton Hewitt (AUS)
Julia Goerges (GER) v
Karolina Pliskova (CZE x9)