The tennis world has been rocked by yet another scandal after the Guardian reported that some umpires have been disciplined or are under investigation over suspicions of colluding with betting syndicates.
On Tuesday, the Guardian reported that an umpire from Kazakhstan had been banned for life in February 2015 for attempting to convince another official to help skew the results of tennis matches on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Futures Tour, the lowest rung on the pro tennis ladder.
The Guardian also revealed that the ITF had slapped a 12-month suspension on a Croatian umpire last August for logging onto a betting account that was used to wager on tennis.
In a worrisome development, four other umpires currently under investigation had been tasked with relaying real-time match results to sports data company Sportradar, which supplies information to bookmakers around the globe and which just extended its partnership with the ITF in December.
The Guardian alleged that the four umpires deliberately delayed relaying match data for up to one minute, allowing gamblers to submit in-play wagers before bookmakers could update their odds. In certain cases, the Guardian claims these umpires sent data directly to gamblers before submitting it to Sportradar.
These court siding scams would have worked because the Eastern European matches in question received little media attention, leaving the bookies dependent on the accuracy of the Sportradar data. One year ago, Sportradar’s head of communications expressed his concern about the potential for shenanigans at tennis’ lower levels.
Sportradar isn’t the only sports data group to have been embarrassed in this manner. In 2014, an employee of Perform Group’s Runningball division reportedly mistook a pickup football game between friends as an international friendly between a Spanish second division team and Portugal’s Freamunde. Bookies were forced to void all wagers on the match.
The ITF issued a statement defending its Sportradar deal, saying the creation of “official, accurate and immediate data acts as a deterrent to efforts by anyone trying to conduct illegal sports betting and/or unauthorized use of data for non-legal purposes.”
The Guardian expressed concern over the fact that, while the ITF had alerted a “small number” of tournament directors and tennis federations regarding its disciplinary actions, the actions remained largely an internal matter until the paper contacted the ITF with its findings.
The ITF said it couldn’t publicly disclose the nature of any ongoing investigations so as not to prejudice future hearings. However, the ITF vowed to publicly announce disciplinary action against any official found guilty of an offence, in keeping with its code of conduct for officials, which was amended in December.
Regardless, the Guardian’s report will invariably put further pressure on the ITF and Sportradar to monitor activity by both athletes and officials at the lower rungs of the sport. Bookmakers – who stand to lose the most from fixing attempts – will also be questioning the wisdom of maintaining markets on obscure tennis events.
Australia’s anti-in-play betting campaigners are also likely to use the Guardian‘s report to further their cause. This year’s Australian Open was overshadowed by historical allegations of match fixing at the tennis world’s highest levels as well as bookmaker reports of suspicious betting activity on a doubles match at the competition, although some betting industry observers questioned the veracity of these latter reports.