The number of alerts about suspicious match activity received by the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) increased during the first quarter of this year.
A joint initiative from the major stakeholders in tennis, including the ITF, the ATP, the WTA and the four Grand Slam tournaments, the TIU is the organisation responsible for investigating match fixing in the sport. It has the power to impose finds and sanctions, including banning players, umpires and other tennis officials from tournaments, in some cases for lengthy periods.
Although tennis has been seen as a wealthy sport, with high profile figures like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams millionaires many times over, in fact they are very much in the minority. A 2018 report into the causes of corruption in the sport found that only 250 – 350 players a year break-even, and many are struggling financially. Many players on the junior tours are wholly dependent on prize money, and, from what they earn, they have to pay the salaries of a coach, their travel, accommodation and board, and to buy their own equipment. Few have the lucrative sponsorship deals that bolster the income of the major stars.
Given the precarious financial situation of many of these players, it is not surprising perhaps that some have been tempted to cheat and listen to the blandishments of corruptors, given the rise of the online betting industry. After football, more money is bet on tennis every year than any other sport.
Earlier this year, Brazilian Joao Sousa, a former top 100 player was banned for life and fined US $200,000 for match fixing, and other offences, six months after his compatriot Diego Matos received a similar sanction.
There have been a number of others. In 2016, a BBC investigation found that it was prevalent throughout the sport, with Northern Italian, Sicilian and Russian betting syndicates all trying to fix matches, including at Wimbledon.
And though it is more associated with lower ranked tournaments, where the level of scrutiny is perhaps not so intense, a German TV documentary at the start of this year reported that at least one unnamed male player in the top 30 at the top was suspected of being involved.
Now the TIU has said that it received 38 match alerts from the regulated betting industry between January 1st and March 22nd, when all matches were halted because of the Covid-19 pandemic. That compares to 21 in the same period last year.
This is a problem that will not go away, and the TIU expects the number of reported cases to rise once players return to the court again.