“You’re Going to Lose, Why Don’t You Lose with Money in Your Pocket?” Five Points About the Tennis Match-Fixing Report

Today, April 25 – the Independent Review of Integrity in Tennis Interim Report came out in London. It cost over £15 million pounds  to complete.

Five points:

1. Good job. This was independent and it accurately pointed out something that the sport has hated to admit:

Tanking – deliberate under performance has long been part of tennis culture. I mean long – as in a decades long cover-up. For players were not only tanking for their own benefit (if you’re injured you don’t want to exacerbate it): but “gentleman agreements” are rife in the sport (a hometown athlete gets gifted a match, so long as they reciprocate in another venue). I was told about this culture back in the late 1990s by organized crime mobsters and then read about it in the excellent Richard Ings’ report from 2005.

Today, was the first time that anyone connected with official tennis mentioned the phenomenon.

2. The fuel for the fixing fire is that most athletes in tennis lose money playing tennis. In fact, according to the report approximately 250 women, 300 men make money. The rest either break even or lose money playing tennis.

Actually, there is a statistic that the authors do not touch: the number of tennis players who make more money fixing than they do actually playing hard.

3. The report announced that fixing is prevalent in lower levels of tennis – “Tsunami” is the word used by the authors. They also claim it rarely ever breaks into Grand Slam tennis events. Ummmm, actually that is not true. Grand Slam events are affected by fixing. Not to the charade-level that you can get in the minor, third-level tennis tournament in Hong Kong played in November (the fixing season) – but it does exist.

The authors of the report interviewed lots of people in the sports gambling, sports gambling monitoring industry and players. All those people have a vested interest in not fully examining what happens in the Grand Slam tournaments. Sports gambling people do not want to admit that they cannot tell if there is any fixing going on in the major sports events. So much money is gambled on a Nadal or Federer match that they could do (not that either of these players would) anything and the betting market would not show any “suspicious movements”.

For example, you are a good top-level player. Ranked about 20th in the world. You are from what the advertising world calls a ‘secondary market’ (former Soviet country, Africa, etc) so your image rights are not worth a great deal of money. You are playing a Grand Slam tournament. You beat the people you should – the other players ranked from 40 to 10. Then in the quarter-final you are up against one of the big boys – Nadal, Federer, Djokovic. In the famous words of the infamous fixers, “You know you are going to lose – why don’t you lose with money in your pocket?”

The betting market – like Real Madrid winning against impoverished La Liga opponents (hint) – will not show anything. The betting market, when the big players play in a big tournament, is too big to accurately monitor. There is too much money bet on these players to show anything wrong. Particularly, if the lower-ranked player – who is supposed to lose – loses.

Losing in those circumstances can net a player, with the right contacts, over a million dollars for losing a Grand Slam match they were supposed to lose anyway.

4. The report comes from an excellent 2016 BuzzFeed investigation. Full congratulations to the journalists. None of the BuzzFeed investigators was a tennis journalist. They like tennis. They watch tennis but they do not cover the sport every day.

Again, why does it take outsiders to cover these stories? Why is it almost always the investigative reporters who break the big sports corruption stories and not the sports journalists?

5. The report ends with a series of recommendations. The key one is the need for an independent agency to oversee the enforcement of integrity in tennis and other sport. Damn right! Sports is the meat-packing plant that has been churning out toxic product for years. Meat inspectors are not paid or ruled by the owners of the plant. Sports need independent inspectors to properly protect it.

Find the report here: http://tennisirp.com

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