Investigation alleges that a core group of 16 players have repeatedly been brought to the attention of the sport’s governing body over suspicions of match-fixing, writes Tom Allnutt
World number one Novak Djokovic says that he felt “terrible” when he was offered money to fix a match in 2006 and has denounced the practice as a “crime in sport”.
Djokovic instantly rejected the bribe made to him 10 years ago and insists he is unaware of any match-fixing currently happening at the top level of the game.
An investigation carried out by the BBC and Buzzfeed alleges that over the last decade a core group of 16 players have repeatedly been brought to the attention of the sport’s governing bodies over suspicions they have fixed matches.
The report claims all of the 16 players have ranked in the world’s top 50 at some point and that more than half of them were playing in the Australian Open first round, which started on Monday.
The BBC said the group also included “winners of grand slam titles”.
Chris Kermode, president of the ATP which governs the men’s professional tour, said the sport’s authorities “absolutely reject” the suggestion that evidence of match-fixing has been suppressed.
Djokovic has previously claimed he was offered £110,000 to lose a first-round match in St Petersburg but says the bribe was turned down before it even reached him.
“I was not approached directly,” Djokovic 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, there was nothing out of it.
“It made me feel terrible because I don’t want to be in any way linked to this — somebody may call it an opportunity. For me, it’s an act of bad sportsmanship, a crime in sport honestly.”
It is alleged that in 2007 tennis authorities were presented with an examination of 26,000 matches, three of them at Wimbledon, which contained enough evidence to root out offenders — but no action was taken.
Djokovic, however, insists he is not aware of any match-fixing at the top level of the game.
“From my knowledge and information about match-fixing or anything similar, there is nothing happening on the top level, as far as I know,” Djokovic said.
The BBC and Buzzfeed chose not to name any players as they say it is not possible to determine whether they personally took part in match-fixing.
Roger Federer believes offenders need to be identified before significant progress can be made.
“I would love to hear names,” the Swiss star said. “Then at least it’s concrete stuff and you can actually debate about it.
“Was it the player? Was it the support team? Who was it? Was it before? Was it a doubles player, a singles player? Which slam?
“It’s so all over the place.
“It’s nonsense to answer something that is pure speculation.”
The Tennis Integrity Unit was set up in 2008 to tackle corruption within the sport but the organisation’s director Nigel Willerton refused to confirm whether players competing at the Australian Open are currently under investigation.
When asked whether paying lower-ranked professionals more might combat the threat, Federer responded to the journalist: “I completely disagree with you.
“I think you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter how much money you pump into the system, there’s always going to be people approaching players, or people, in any sport.
“I agree we should have more money at futures, challengers, all these levels. But it’s not going to solve the issue. The issue is elsewhere, it’s in the player’s mind.”
Serena Williams said she has also never seen any indication of malpractice on the women’s tour.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Williams said. “When I’m playing, I can only answer for me, I play very hard, and every player I play seems to play hard.”
Tennis is the latest sport to be marred by claims of corruption after football and athletics have both been recently embroiled in controversy.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter resigned and was banned for eight years after he was found to have made a “disloyal payment” to Uefa counterpart Michel Platini, while officials at the IAAF continue to come under scrutiny from the French police and the World Anti-Doping Agency over a conspiracy to cover up doping in athletics.
Federer said: “We need to make sure the integrity of the game is always maintained because without that, I always would say, why do you come and watch this match tonight or any match? Because you just don’t know the outcome.
“As long as we don’t know the outcome, the players, fans, it’s going to be exciting.
“The moment that gets taken away, there’s no point any more to be in the stadium.”
Britain’s secretary of state for culture, media, and sport, John Whittingdale, told BBC Radio 4’s Today show: “I hope that tennis will learn from the mistakes of other sports and investigate this very quickly and openly.
“In the past, allegations of this kind made, which have been against athletics, against football, have appeared to be swept under the carpet and that has done enormous damage.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved