Tennis has ‘serious integrity problem’ with betting, says independent review

Sports Betting

Professional tennis has created an environment ripe for corruption at the sport’s lowest levels and needs reform to combat the problem, an independent task force reported on Wednesday, after a two-year investigation.

The review panel, made up of three prominent lawyers, found that there was a “tsunami” of fixed matches at the lower levels of the game, but that there was no conspiracy or collusion among the sport’s governing bodies to cover it up.

Scarred by reports of match fixing, tennis leaders created the panel in January 2016 and announced they would implement all of its recommendations.

The panel interviewed more than 200 tennis stakeholders and surveyed more than 3,200 players for its interim report, which cost more than $20 million to compile. The final report will be released in the fall after the panel receives feedback from tennis officials.

The panel recommended that the International Tennis Federation end its ongoing data-rights deal with the Swiss company Sportradar, at least as it concerns the lowest tiers of professional tennis. The five-year, $70 million agreement, which was signed in 2015, involves I.T.F. events ranging from the Davis Cup, a men’s team tennis event, to Futures tournaments, the lowest rung on the professional tennis ladder. The expansion of live data rights to those lowest, most vulnerable levels of competition has incubated corruption, the report said, adding that the risks of the deal were not adequately considered.

“Whilst these deals have generated considerable funds for the sport, they have also greatly expanded the available markets for betting on the lowest levels of professional tennis,” the panel said. “The I.T.F. did not appropriately assess the potential adverse effects of these agreements before entering into them.”

The dissolution of that deal was the first and most direct of the 12 recommendations contained in the report.

“Discontinuing the sale of official data at these lowest levels of tennis is a necessary, pragmatic and effective approach to containing betting-related breaches of integrity,” the report concluded.

Alex Inglot, a spokesman for Sportradar, called the proposal to end the company’s agreement with the I.T.F. for data rights at Futures events “unrealistic,” “potentially unlawful” and “heavy-handed.”

“Prohibition simply doesn’t work,” Inglot said in a statement. “Prohibiting data partnerships will not stop betting, live or otherwise, on these matches nor will it remove corruption risk at this level. Pre-match betting will remain available; unofficial data will be collected; generally available match statistics can be used by betting operators anyway; the risk of data fraud and ghost matches will increase; and there will be no clear contractual basis by which operators will be bound to reporting and transparency requirements. This will almost certainly encourage black market activity.”

The panel also recommended empowering the Tennis Integrity Unit, established in 2008 to investigate betting-related corruption, to further restrict data sales at tournaments at higher levels where systems were “insufficient to protect players from would-be corrupters.”

Live data from these tournaments can be used by gambling sites, particularly for betting in which wagers can be made on elements of the match as it progresses.

David Haggerty, president of the I.T.F., has said that the Sportradar deal is a symbiotic arrangement that helps increase oversight of betting patterns in the sport. He has argued that it is as much in the betting companies’ interest to eliminate corruption as it is in tennis’s interest.

But the review panel disagreed, citing the increased volume of betting on the lower levels of the sport, which has proved to be the most vulnerable to match fixing. It also suggested that the sport at large should help compensate the I.T.F. for the lost revenue if it does follow the panel’s recommendation and end the Sportradar deal.

The panel insisted that the lucrative nature of the data sales should not be used as justification to continue the practice, saying, “the resolution of significant integrity concerns cannot be driven by the question of financial return — even when much of it is redistributed to the sport.”

The panel also recommended eliminating sponsorships from betting companies.

The report said the Tennis Integrity Unit should be reorganized to give it independent oversight, apart from the sport’s governing bodies: the ATP, the WTA, the I.T.F. and the four Grand Slam tournaments.

A statement released on behalf of those governing bodies said, “We confirm our agreement in principle with the package of measures and recommendations.”

The panel called for the Tennis Integrity Unit to have greater transparency in its proceedings and better cooperation with law enforcement. It also criticized the T.I.U. for lacking personnel with expertise in betting or tennis; many employees of the integrity unit are former police officers.

In the two years since the panel was created, the T.I.U. has already increased its staff and its budget, and has begun regularly releasing information about its activities in an effort to be more transparent.

The panel also recommended wider training for players, better security around players at tournaments, and methods to prevent online abuse. There were also recommendations to reform the pathway players take through the lower tiers of tennis to shore up “incentive problems” that exist when players earning little prize money are vulnerable to selling matches. Several reforms for the lowest levels of the sport are already set to be implemented in the 2019 season.

The report cited a veteran T.I.U. investigator who estimated that “hundreds of matches at Futures level (both singles and doubles) are not being played fairly, with the numbers reducing as you move upwards through the ranks of the professional game.”