Tennis is facing a “tsunami” of integrity problems, according to a two-year investigation into corruption within the sport.
Published Wednesday, the report by the Independent Review Panel was commissioned in February 2016 after a BBC and BuzzFeed News investigation uncovered suspected illegal betting on the eve of that year’s Australian Open.
The investigation — led by sports law expert Adam Lewis QC — has interviewed more than 1,000 people from across the sport and is thought to have cost close to £20 million ($28 million) to fund.
The findings state that the biggest problems lie in lower levels of the game on the Futures Tour, due to the low prize money providing an incentive for players to match-fix for financial reward.
“Only the top 250 to 350 players earn enough money to break even. Yet there are nominally 15,000 or so ‘professional’ players,” the report states.
“The imbalance between prize money and the cost of competing places players in an invidious position by tempting them to contrive matches for financial reward.
“Players may be particularly tempted in relation to matches that they intended to ‘tank’ for unrelated reasons — a factor that has been aptly described as the “seeds of corruption” — or in matches that they believe they can win even while contriving to lose games, sets, or points along the way.”
The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) received 38 alerts from betting companies of potentially suspicious matches during the first quarter of 2018. Of those, one was from the ATP Tour and one the WTA Tour while 23 were from the ITF Futures Tour, the lowest rung of men’s tennis.
The panel also found “evidence of some issues” at grand slams and tour events, although it did not uncover evidence of a widespread problem at those higher levels.
The report showed no evidence of top-level players being implicated in corruption.
However, it did claim that “tanking” — players seemingly giving up during matches — which has been a feature at some high-profile tournaments, has been too often tolerated by the tennis authorities.
“The evidence reviewed by the Panel has not revealed a widespread problem at higher levels of professional tennis [Tour events and Grand Slams], although there is nonetheless evidence of some issues at these levels,” the report said.
Among its recommendations are the restructuring of the professional game and a significant reduction in tournaments deemed “professional”, but where players may actually lose money due to the cost of competing, thus making them vulnerable to breaches of integrity.
The panel also recommended discontinuing the sale of official live scoring data at lower-level tennis to betting companies and eliminating betting sponsorship in the sport.
There will now be a two-month period for stakeholders to respond to the findings before final recommendations are presented.