An Open Letter To the Tennis Integrity Unit

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An Open Letter To the Tennis Integrity Unit

Dear Tennis Integrity Unit,

This letter comes from an huge fan of this sport, a sport that I love watching, following, and playing.

I love especially the lowest level of professional tennis, the ITF Pro Circuit and the ATP Challenger Circuit, because I like to follow player’s development and I prefer to watch players that fight hard to pursue their dream of making a living with tennis more than the players in the top 10.

Every day, I follow prematch and in-play odds of (almost) every professional match played and I am not the kind of person that says everything is fixed (you can see on my Twitter account how many times I say “not fixed” when people ask me about matches), as I am not the kind of guy that gets angry after a lost bet and claims the fix instead of his own bad evaluation.

In the last months I wrote several articles about match-fixing because, frim my own knowledge of ITF betting markets, I think I can easily spot very suspicious matches on which bookmakers had to face an abnormal amount of money.

I am perfectly aware that these abnormal amounts can be due to players’ injury, bad starting pricin,g etc…but I always consider these factors before highligthing a match.

I have noticed during the last weeks an incredible increase of ITF matches that look fixed and consider that I am only able to spot matches when Money Line or a Set are sold, because when players sell a break is impossible to notice the bookmaker reaction (only they can know), and a break is very easy to sell as the player can just lose service one game (receiving from 300 to 500 euros) and still be able to win the match.

The greatest percentage of ITF matches fixed are fixed on bet365 because this is the bookmaker with the biggest limits for these matches; the problem is, for what I have understood from several sources, that Bet365 rarely sends alerts to the Tennis Integrity Unit, despite being part of ESSA. I don’t know why they act like this, but surely there is some financial/marketing reason.

Match-fixing is damaging both bookmakers (that surely lose money overall on fixed matches) and gamblers (that place their bets considering their evaluation of the players involved and can’t know that the outcome is decided before stepping on court). However, it mainly destroys the image of tennis because more and more fans don’t believe anymore this is a clean sport.

Match-fixing arrives also in Grand Slam matches, as I wrote more than a week ago that in my opinion two matches at 2016 US Open were very suspicious: for example on the Vitalia Diatchenko match (against Timea Bacsinszky), I noticed that for set 2 the correct score and under/over markets Bet365 had ridiculous limits (like 50 euro max) while on other US Open matches same markets had thousands of euros as the limit. One week later we know that you received alert from bookmaker Fonbet (again, not from Bet365), and also Federbet noticed an abnormal amount of money on the match (“more than 10 times the amount the match was expected to generate”). I also recommend your investigators to check about Victor Estrella’s quick loss; I am sure that if bookmakers cooperate you will find something interesting also about this match.

Sadly, I am pretty sure that if Diatchenko has not been very stupid you will not find any evidence on her laptop/smartphone and so you, the Tennis Integrity Unit, will declare again that the sport is clean.

You will repeat forever and ever that very suspicious betting patterns and odds movements don’t imply match-fixing, but if you keep going like this you will never be able to catch anyone anymore.

You received 121 alerts from bookmakers only in first half of 2016 (and I am sure you should have have received much more). Anyway, you didn’t take a single action against players involved on these matches. You gave only two suspensions to out of top 1000 players just because they placed bets on tennis matches (not their own so just as gamblers). So we are in a situation where match-fixing clearly happens and believe me, it happens every day and you are completely unable to ban any of these fixers. You want to find evidences on bank accounts, texts or conversations on laptops or smartphones, but players and arrangers know this; they know you can confiscate their stuff and they don’t leave any evidence. this is why the amount of matches fixed is increasing week after week, they know they basically don’t risk anything if they are smart.

What I can suggest to you is this:

  • Start thinking about avoiding the need of concrete evidence, just using balance of probabilities: if a standard amount of money for a bookmaker on a break bet is like 10 thousands euros worldwide and you see a few thousands coming just from one account or same country IPs, well it will be tough to think about a coincidence.
  • Try to have more and more cooperation by bookmakers: the world’s most important one isn’t much cooperating as far as I know and you should somehow push them all to help you.
  • Try to have one of your representatives at every tournament: as soon as an alert comes from pre-match or in-play betting companies you should have one of your representatives courtside, at least to put pressure on the players that are supposed to be fixing and so you can confiscate players’ stuff in real time and not weeks later.
  • Ask for more and more investment in your department from tennis authorities: proper investigation needs proper money and if you don’t have enough employees you will not reach anything.
  • improve your transparency: even if you decide that the alert is not enough to ban a player, why, for every alert received, don’t you let the public know the name of the player and the suspicious bets taken (amount, outcome, comparison with similar level regular matches etc…)?

For those thinking that restricting or prohibiting betting on ITF matches is the solution, the UK Gambling Commission gave in the last days already a good answer.

Last but not least: italian player Marco Cecchinato has been found guilty of match-fixing with other lower level italian players by Italian Tennis Federation. Italian prosecutors in this case found also evidences like Whatsapp conversations: why is he still playing on the Challenger Tour?

Please, make this wonderful sport clean and make it soon.

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