The Australian Open started today (Jan. 18), much to the delight of tennis fans around the world. But this year the event is clouded by reports suggesting that 16 top-level players—in collusion with betting syndicates—have repeatedly thrown matches over the past decade, including at Wimbledon and other major venues.
The BBC and BuzzFeed News say they were given documents by whistle blowers inside the sport (who wanted to remain anonymous) that seem to show widespread match fixing. They also show betting syndicates in Russia and Italy making hundreds of thousands of dollars betting on games—including three at Wimbledon—believed by investigators to be fixed. (A separate data analysis by Buzzfeed identified “15 players who regularly lost matches in which heavily lopsided betting appeared to substantially shift the odds—a red flag for possible match fixing.”)
Among the documents are findings from a 2007 investigation set up by the Association of Tennis Professionals looking into suspicious betting activity after a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello. While the investigation cleared those players of violating any rules, it led to a broader inquiry into gamblers connected to top-level players.
“There was a core of about 10 players who we believed were the most common perpetrators that were at the root of the problem,” Mark Phillips, one of the betting investigators in the 2007 enquiry, told the BBC. “The evidence was really strong. 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.”
But tennis authorities have taken little action on the findings, and the Tennis Integrity Unit established to police the sport lacks teeth, according to the BBC. Eight of the players suspected of match fixing are competing at the Australian Open, the BBC said. The news organizations did not name specific players, because it was impossible to tell whether they were personally involved with the evidence available.