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Match-fixing claims cast dark cloud over Australian Open

IS it just us, or are scandals in sport becoming more prevalent?

Whether it’s the drama of Essendon’s supplements program in the AFL, Chris Gayle’s #dontblushbaby in the KFC T20 Big Bash League or the corruption rocking FIFA, it seems no sport’s integrity is safe in 2016.

And tennis is no exception, with the 2016 Australian Open marred by claims several professional players were suspected of match fixing.

Match fixing is nothing new in professional sport.

There will always be someone out there with an agenda, attempting to get ahead of the curve.

But leaked files – exposed by news outlets – out of the world’s Tennis Integrity Unit reveal there are 16 players who have been ranked in the top 50 – including winners of grand slams – who have been identified as possibly throwing matches in the past decade.

If it is true, a nasty cloud hangs over the past 10 years of world tennis.

And that feeds in to the bread and butter punters, whose hard earned dollars have been compromised by corrupt people and players trying to make a quick buck by cheating.

It’s understood there are eight players who have been identified as possibly being involved in games that were fixed, are currently taking part in the Australian Open.

The TIU – which is built upon a foundation of a ‘zero tolerance’ approach – has rejected claims by media that it had suppressed information about match fixing, but the BBC reports it has documents that linked a “web of gamblers” to top-level players.

One of the investigations, in 2007, centred upon two former players, but both men were cleared of any wrong doing.

But the BBC says that investigation opened up a veritable ‘pandora’s box’.

With information that betting syndicates were discovered in Russia, Italy and Sicily, the report appears damning, displaying endemic match fixing in the sport.

Some of the matches involved were said to be at Wimbledon.

Even more damning, the TIU allegedly handed a report to tennis bodies in 2208, identifying 28 players suspected of being involved in fixed matches, but authorities never followed them up.

After adopting a new anti corruption code in 2009, which restricted the TIU from pursuing previous offences, several of the players tagged in the 2008 report re appeared on its watch list, but again, none were disciplined.

The BBC reports the information was passed on to them – and online website Buzzfeed news – by “a group of whistle blowers inside tennis who want to remain anonymous”.

The English news outlet tracked down one of the investigators from the 2007 investigation and he said there was a “core of 10 players” believed to be at the root of the problem.

He too was damning, calling the information ‘as powerful as any he had seen in over 20 years as a betting investigator’.

“The evidence was really strong,” he said.

“There appeared to be a really good chance to nip it in the bud and get a strong deterrent out there to root out the main bad apples.”

The BBC and Buzzfeed has a list of names, but it has not named the players, as it has not been able to determine whether they had taken part in match fixing.

In another blow for tennis, the European Sports Security Association claimed tennis was at the peak of gambling suspicions, more than the likes of soccer, after it identified over 50 matches where it believed there could have been some form of fix.

There us no suggestion from us that any of these players are involved with match fixing, but Serbian superstar and world number one Novak Djokovic is the red hot favourite to win the men’s division of the Open at $1.60 with CrownBet.com.au, while Andy Murray is $6 and the Swiss maestro Roger Federer is $9. They are the only players under double figures, with Federer’s compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka next best at $12. Then you go all the way out to $34 for Milos Raonic and polarising Aussie Nick Kyrgios.

In the women’s division, Victoria Azarenka at $3.80 is nipping at the heels of world number one Serena Williams at $3.25 and then it goes out to Garbine Muguruza and Maria Sharapova at $10 each.

Djokovic today revealed he was indirectly approached with a $US200,000 offer to lose a match deliberately back in 2007.

“I was not approached directly,” he said.

‘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 to me, he didn’t even get to me directly.

“There was nothing out of it.

“It made me feel terrible because I don’t want to be anyhow linked to this.

“Somebody may call it an opportunity.

“For me, that’s an act of unsportsmanship, a crime in sport honestly.

“I don’t support it.

“I think there is no room for it in any sport, especially in tennis.

“I always have been taught and have been surrounded with people that had nurtured and respected the sport’s values.

“That’s the way I’ve grown up.

“Fortunately for me, I didn’t need to get directly involved in these particular situations.

“Of course, there is no room for any match fixing or corruption in our sport.

“We’re trying to keep it as clean as possible.

“We have, I think, (as) a sport, evolved and upgraded our programs and authorities to deal with these particular cases.

“I don’t think the shadow is cast over our sport.

“In contrary, people are talking about names, guessing who these players are, guessing those names.

“But there’s no real proof or evidence yet of any active players, for that matter.

“As long as it’s like that, it’s just speculation.

“So I think we have to keep it that way.”

Our take

What a horrible week, not just for tennis, but for tennis punters who laid their money down in good faith. The Australian Open is supposed to be one of the world’s great events, but now it will be played under a shroud, with plenty of darting eyes and finger pointing as the results on the court pale in comparison to what is happening off it. It’s remarkable to think that this sort of activity was allowed to go on unchecked and unpunished for the past decade. What was the officialdom thinking? These sorts of things always come out in the end, often with devastating effects on people’s lives and the sport as a whole. It’s hard if you’re a tennis punter not to look back on games and wonder how your player lost an easy match after being up two sets to love. You start to question whether or not your punts are on a level playing field. After all, what’s the point of placing a bet if the result is already pre determined, even if only a select few people know what that result will be. Tennis is in damage control and, like the crises that have marred other sports over the past 12 months, we’re about to enter a brave new world. The public and punting world deserves and demands better.