Match Fixing Scandals in Tennis
Most of us love taking a punt on sport from time to time. We’d probably never even consider that the match could be rigged, but unfortunately sports betting goes hand-in-hand with match fixing. Some sports have been publicly plagued by it, while in others it’s very well hidden.
Theoretically, any sports match could be fixed so that illegal syndicates can profit. This is a stain on both sport and betting, and bettors like us must be aware of the issue.
Given the one-on-one nature of the sport, you’d expect match fixing scandals in tennis to be much more common than they are. After all, it’s much easier to lose a match on your own than it is to convince your teammates to throw in the towel. Thankfully there have only been a few high-profile cases. Let’s examine some now.
Corruption in tennis isn’t as prominent as, say, the match fixing that brought chaos upon Italian football in 2006, resulting in champions Juventus being relegated to the second tier. It’s not nearly as dramatic as the drug program that cyclist Lance Armstrong spearheaded, nor the doping that’s rife throughout Russian sport, resulting in the country being banned from the Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
There remains, however, unseen and potentially undiscovered corruption in the world of tennis.
A Buzzfeed News and BBC tennis match fixing investigation in 2016 shed light on many of the issues that the sport faces. These two news agencies found that 16 players who had ranked in the top 50 over the previous 10 years had been suspected of partaking in fixed matches. This included Grand Slam winners, yet none of the players were suspended from the game.
In January 2019, a large betting syndicate was broken up in Spain by the police. Fifteen people were arrested, and a further 68 people have been linked to the ring, including 28 professional players.
The Armenian-led network would arrange deals with players to lose a match or a set, and then henchmen would be present at the court to make sure that the players went ahead with fixing the tennis match.
These syndicates are serious criminals who should not be taken lightly. Police found €167,000 in cash, a firearm, and many people’s identity documents, which the criminals would use to create fake betting accounts so they could place bets on the fixed matches.
The extent of match fixing at the top end of the sport is relatively unknown beyond this, but many players on the professional game’s fringes have been found out by the Tennis Integrity Unit. The TIU was set up in 2008 with the mission of undermining match fixing in tennis and bringing the guilty parties to light.
Its mission statement is to make a three-pronged attack on corruption. The TIU was created with the intention of “preventing corruption from taking place; investigation and prosecution of offenders; delivering anti-corruption education for players and stakeholders to recognise and report corrupt activity.” The TIU sanctioned its first player in 2010 for failing to report an approach from a match fixer, then handed out its first lifetime ban the following year to Daniel Koellerer, one of the players we’ll look at in our short case studies.
Tennis Players Caught Match Fixing
The first of our stars who were caught up in match fixing in tennis is Daniel Koellerer from Austria. Not only was he the first to receive a lifetime ban, but he is also among the most high-profile players to be caught, having climbed to the rank of 55 in the world in October 2009.
Koellerer was never far from controversy during his career. Brazillian player Julio Silva accused and reported Koellerer of calling him a monkey and telling him to “go back to the jungle” in 2010.
On top of this, he had an on-court spat with compatriot Stefan Koubek, who grabbed Koellerer by the throat after Keollerer insulted him. As well as this, he received a six-month ban in 2006 for poor behaviour during a match.
The TIU found Koeller guilty of being involved in fixing one of his matches and for acting as a middleman in fixing two other matches. It wasn’t specified which matches these were. He was issued with a $100,000 fine and a lifetime ban from the sport. However, his fine was later retracted as he was not found to have made any financial gain from the tennis match fixing scandal.
Another somewhat high-profile star to get found out was Argentinian Nicolas Kicker. He was found guilty of being involved in fixing in two challenger matches in 2015: one in Padova, Italy and another in Barranquilla, Colombia.
He was handed a six-year suspension in May 2018, with half of the term cut if he does not get involved in match-fixing in the meantime. He’ll be eligible to get back on the court professionally from January 2021.
Another man who’ll go down in history among the worst tennis match fixing players was Egyptian prodigy Karim Hossam. He was found guilty of being involved not only in fixing matches that he played in, but also of getting involved at a deeper level.
Once he started to make money from it, he started to delve deeper into the crime and became a middleman between betting syndicates and players. He was found guilty of 16 corruption charges, for which he was fined $15,000 and banned from tennis for life in July 2018.
The tennis corruption scandal runs deeper in the Hossam household, as Karim’s younger brother Youssef was also found guilty of tainting the sport. Four years Karim’s junior, Youssef was also poised to be great, and like his brother was on the road to stardom.
He held a world ranking of 291 at the age of just 19, but instead of slogging it out to try to reach the top, Youssef decided to take bungs and get involved in professional tennis match fixing.
Just like his brother, Youssef also ended up working as a middleman, grooming other young players in North Africa to lose matches or certain sets on purpose so that betting syndicates could profit. He received a lifetime ban from the sport, but no fine, in May 2020, aged just 21.
Daniele Bracciali and Potito Starace
Italian doubles duo Daniele Bracciali and Potito Starace have been embroiled in betting scandals throughout their careers. They received small fines and short suspensions in 2008 for making bets on other tennis matches.
Then in 2015, the Italian Tennis Federation issued them with lifetime bans from the sport in Italy for their previous involvement in trying to fix tennis matches.
However, it wasn’t until 2019 that the TIU issued the pair with international bans. Bracciali was given a lifetime ban and a $250,000 fine, whilst Starace was given a $100,000 fine and a 10-year ban from involvement in the sport.
With both of these men being top-50 doubles players at times during their careers, they are among the most high-profile players to be caught and punished.
There have also been female tennis players banned for match fixing. Former Ukrainian starlet Helen Ploskina was found guilty of introducing another player to a corruptor when she was just 19 years old in October 2016. The TIU handed her a lifetime ban in May 2019, along with a $20,000 fine.
In some of these cases, you may have noticed the age of the tennis players match fixing. Criminals often target younger players who are lower in the rankings. Not only are these players less experienced and therefore easier to manipulate but, crucially, they don’t have much money.
Trying to break through in the professional world of tennis is incredibly challenging, and not just from the sporting perspective. It’s very expensive to fund your career when you’re getting started. Prize money is relatively low, and players often have to cover their own costs, such as paying for coaches, travel expenses, and training camps.
Many young players are dependent on their parents to help them cover costs in their early days. If a tennis match fixer offers them a sum as low as $1,000 to lose a match or a set, then this can often be enough to swing them towards fixing a match.
Sadly, just one incident as small as this is enough to destroy a promising career and bring the person’s name and reputation into disrepute forever.
As far as we’re aware, betting in tennis isn’t a well-known public issue. Part of the reason for this is that many people are only interested in the top players, such as Djokovic, Murray, the Williams sisters, and Federer.
Beyond this, the level of interest does not tend to run too deep, particularly when the player’s rankings are into the hundreds. This, as we know, is where the majority of match fixing scandals in tennis occur. That’s because low-ranked players win much less prize money and spend less time in the spotlight than those at the top.
However, we can never truly know the depth of corruption in the sport. As we saw recently with football, the level of corruption runs incredibly deep at FIFA. We can only hope that organisations such as the TIU help to keep tennis’s stellar reputation in check by rooting out corruption.