The Independent Review Panel commissioned to address concerns over match-fixing in tennis published its final report on Wednesday after nearly three years of investigating the problem.
The panel issued a preliminary report in April, after which it consulted with the tennis governing bodies and their watchdog group, the Tennis Integrity Unit, about the implementation of its 12 recommendations.
The panel said there could be “no simple solution or panacea to deal with the problem now faced.”
“The nature of the game lends itself to manipulation for betting purposes,” the report said. “There are many contingencies. There is only one player who must act. Detection is difficult, not least because at many lower level matches there are no spectators and inadequate facilities to protect players from potential corrupters. Moreover, underperformance is often attributed to ‘tanking,’ which too often has been tolerated.”
The panel cited an incentive structure in which many players with little hope of professional advancement can be tempted into accepting offers to contrive outcomes in matches, which often exceed the paltry compensation for winning matches. The report encouraged the tennis tours “to create a player pathway that ensures sufficient financial incentives and prospects for progression.”
The panel was created in January 2016 in response to a surge of concern over match-fixing, and at the time, tennis leaders said they would implement all of its recommendations, whenever the panel’s work was done.
In a joint statement Wednesday, the tennis governing bodies — the International Tennis Federation, ATP, WTA and the four Grand Slam tournaments — said, “we will now work collectively to prioritize timely implementation of the Panel’s final integrity and governance recommendations.”
The I.T.F. has already overhauled the lowest level of sanctioned professional tennis, with a new developmental system called the ITF World Tennis Tour beginning next year. It is intended to reduce the ranks for pro players and, according to the report, ensure that prize money “is better targeted to enable more of the men and women taking part to make a living.” The ATP also had previously announced changes to its midlevel tournaments — the Challenger Tour — to improve opportunities for prize money and ranking points. (Most integrity offenses have been committed on the men’s tour.)
The report also cited the jam-packed tennis calendar for incentivizing deliberate underperformance because tournaments often run into each other and even overlap. Success in some tournaments precludes participation in others.
“This is a significant, recurring problem at the lower levels of the tennis when doubles competitions, which are often viewed by players as less important or valuable, conflict with a singles event in the following week,” the report said. “Players on occasion perceive themselves as better off losing and moving on than seeking to stay in a competition, and some act on that perception.”
One of the most contentious recommendations is likely to be the panel’s assertion that official live scoring data be limited, especially at the lowest level tournaments, in order to quash the betting market where players are vulnerable to temptation, corruption and online abuse.
That scoring data is owned by the British data rights company Sportradar, whose managing director, David Lampitt, said the focus on the lowest level did not match with the facts. The rate of match alerts suggesting suspicious betting activity is more than twice as high on the midlevel Challenger tour (0.70 percent), where the data rights are owned by IMG, than at the lowest-level events (0.31 percent).
“Of course, integrity risks exist across all levels,” Lampitt said in a statement. “But they are most prevalent at the midlevel of the men’s game, so the rationale for applying the most draconian measures to the I.T.F. men’s and women’s competitions and recommending relatively modest changes at the other levels doesn’t tally with the evidence.”
The panel further suggested an overhaul of the Tennis Integrity Unit, the group responsible for investigating betting-related corruption. The report recommended independent oversight of the unit and a larger and more diverse staff, including experts in tennis and betting. The T.I.U. has primarily been staffed by former police officers from Britain. The panel also recommended greater cooperation between the T.I.U. and law enforcement agencies, as well as other third parties like national federations and governing bodies in other sports.
The report mandated that the unit “promptly clear its substantial backlog of cases.”
That backlog has led to clouds over players who continue to compete on tour despite accusations of match fixing. The Italian player Marco Cecchinato, who was a surprise semifinalist at the French Open this year, is believed to still be under investigation, after a previous integrity violation from an Italian court was overturned on a technicality.
But the T.I.U. has shown signs of improvement this year: Of the unit’s 59 successful prosecutions since 2009, 23 have taken place since the panel’s interim report was released in April.
The panel also recommended an end to tennis organizations accepting sponsorships and advertisements from betting companies, at a time when major professional sports leagues in the United States are eagerly striking deals with gambling industry partners as states gradually legalize sports betting.
Among other recommendations were greater transparency on the outcomes of cases, enhanced integrity training for players and more controlled access to them, including better accreditation and security procedures.
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