The Australian Open, also known as the ‘happy slam’, was rocked by allegations of a widespread match-fixing racket. With BBC and BuzzFeed news publishing a report exposing evidence of widespread speculation of match-fixing, the atmosphere at the Australian Open has been anything but cheerful.The average fan may not be aware that tennis is the most gambled on sport in the world. It allows mid-match bets and the scope for match fixing is immense. Fixing a match in tennis is easy, as it deals only with a single player and doesn’t necessarily depend on losing a match. A player could take money to drop a set or for double fault!
Although none of the players were named, the report alleges that the sixteen players have been ranked in the top 50 and have won a grand slam in single or doubles tournament. What is disturbing is that the report also states that the sport’s governing bodies have been aware of the suspicious activities involving numerous players, but have been anything but enthusiastic in addressing the problem. These players have been flagged as suspicious time and again to the Tennis Integrity Unit, but no action has been taken.
The report draws from the August 2007 Orange Prokom Open match between Nikolai Davydenko, ranked fourth, and Martin Vassallo Arguello, ranked 87th, in Poland. Davydenko was the overwhelming favorite, yet during the match and hours before it started more than $5 million was bet on his opponent. Appearing to be cruising to victory, Davydenko retired early in the third set, raising speculations of fixing. Investigations did take place and although both the players were cleared of any charges by the Association of Tennis Professionals (A.T.P), the new report reveals that Davydenko had refused to cooperate in the investigation and his opponent was found to have extensive contacts with the members of an Italian gambling syndicate.
The lack of transparency in governing bodies is another obstacle the game is facing. The above is not the only instance of the governing body remaining silent. In 2013, Marian Cilic withdrew from Wimbledon stating a knee injury when the actual reason was a failed drug test in the previous tournament. Why was he allowed to cite an injury for a withdrawal when a failed drug test was the real reason? Andre Agassi failed a drug test due to the consumption of crystal meth in 1997. The public got to know about it in 2009, that too by reading his autobiography. If the governing bodies themselves indulge in such shady activities, who gives us the guarantee that our beloved sport is clean or, at least, attempts are being made to clean the muck.
Those close to the sport are not surprised. Rumors of fixing have been doing the rounds for quite some time now. In an interview with the BBC, a player, who featured in several tour matches last year and is now a coach said, “This (match-fixing) is like a secret on the tour that everybody knows, but we don’t talk about it.”
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic are the only grand slam winners in the past decade. If any of these players were involved in match-fixing, it would be a calamitous blow to tennis. But the very fact that some of them have come forward and demanded names gives us solace that they might not be involved.
Andy Roddick tweeted: “In the age of leaks and social media, I don’t think secrets exist.” We certainly hope this secret is revealed, for no one wants tennis going down the controversial path football, cycling and cricket did.