It’s been nearly three years since the various tennis bodies got together as one (a watershed moment in itself) to fund a comprehensive review of tennis’s betting issues.
At 113 pages, it’s not easy tennis off-season reading – to say the least.
And it comes nearly eight months after the IRP submitted an interim report, nearly 2 1/2 years into the process overall.
The purpose of that interim report seemed mainly to provide an opportunity for various tennis bodies criticized to plead their case, in their own defence.
Will the various tennis bodies will takes the panel’s recommendations to heart and make a full effort to implement them?
That’s to be determined.
Governing bodies sign off
The governing bodies of tennis (the ATP, WTA, ITF and the Slams as individual units) signed off on the report.
Notably, it took just three paragraphs for the statement to note that “the Panel has seen no evidence of any institutional corruption or cover-up by the international governing bodies or the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU).”
You hope that wasn’t the group’s biggest takeaway – ensuring history wasn’t unkind. But it may well have been.
“We will now work collectively to prioritize timely implementation of the Panel’s final integrity and governance recommendations,” the statement said.
Past transgressions highlighted again
As in the interim report, the review panel found the level of action on suspicious match betting more than inadequate in the early years. That was notably so in the wake of former ATP supervisor Richard Ings’s 2005 report.
Too many cases for which leads weren’t followed. Betting accounts in the names of players and coaches. Insufficient efforts at the Slam level to investigate suspicious betting.
In the latter case, the panel attributes the neglect to inadequate structures and resources.
As well, the panel brings up a situation in 2003 “in which a player who had been under investigation retired” following a “conversation” with the ATP.
In other words: retire, and we won’t go after you. PLEASE don’t make us go after you.
In short, the panel didn’t find the governing bodies and the Tennis Integrity did anything wrong. But it does note that there were umpteen things they didn’t do.
Successful prosecutions leap
The Tennis Integrity Unit has successfully prosecuted 59 cases since 2009. Notably, 23 of those came since the Interim Report was published in April 2018. Which doesn’t say much for the 2009 – April 2018 period.
One criticism the panel leveled upon the TIU is that it has, incredibly, failed to hire a betting analyst.
You’d think this would be a huge priority. It is the betting companies and analysts that, most often, blow the whistly.
You’d be wrong.
The Sportradar situation
The ITF first joined forces with Sportradar, which provides live scoring data, back in 2011. The ITF extended that agreement in 2015.
So the struggle, with the interim panel’s initial recommendation to eliminate live scoring altogether at the lower levels, has been real.
“The Panel considers that insufficient diligence was undertaken by the ITF fully to assess the potential ramifications of entering into these agreements, which increased by tens of thousands the matches that could be bet upon at the Lowest Level of the sport, before entering into them.”
Meanwhile the “Tennis Integrity Board”, established by the game’s alphabet soup to oversee the TIU, proved to be a waste of per diems.
“The TIU has not been subject to adequate supervision or strategic direction from the Tennis Integrity Board (“TIB”), which was established by the International Governing Bodies to oversee the TIU. This has principally arisen as a consequence of the TIB’s deference to the independence of the TIU.”
The panel advocated the discontinuance of Sportradar’s live data from the low-level $15K and $25K events. The ITF derives considerable revenue from the Sportradar sponsorship. Sportradar earns significantly more because of having the contract. So the latter two begged to differ.
Thus, they found themselves at cross-purposes.
Revenue lost on source of 80% of suspicious matches
The counter-argument from those who stand to benefit from the use of the data is that it wouldn’t stop the betting at the lower levels. Alternate sources of live data would pop up, they say.
And that would cause an “erosion in co-operation between betting operators and the TIU because betting markets for ITF events would no longer be based on official data.”
The game’s other governing bodies disagree with that assessment. But of course, they have no financial stake.
The compromise seems to be a “targeted” approach. In other words, keep the money train running, to an extent.
The panel’s recommendation is that the live scoring data be discontinued only at the $15,000 level. In 2019, those entry-level tournaments are almost completely cut off from the rest of the tennis universe by the new structure.
But the TIU can, “on the basis of its experience (!!!??) and in cooperation with betting operators, stop the live data on “certain high risk circumstances throughout the sport.”
Take the 15Ks off the table
As well, the panel recommends imposing “targeted restrictions on the supply of official live scoring data in particular circumstances at all levels of the sport”.
It also recommends imposing “integrity-related contractual obligations on betting operators and data supply companies as a condition of the supply of official live scoring data.”
The panel feels that having the scoring data still freely available at all the other levels will solve it. It posits that the betting community would be less motivated to invest in the personnel required to set up an alternate system to scout and report scores at the $15K level.
As well, with the ITF planning to expand the distribution of $25K matches around the world, that should be enough to satisfy betting demand.
Eliminating the 15Ks as a gambling resource would significantly reduce the workload of cases investigated by the TIU. Its study of the numbers determined that some 80 per cent of the suspicious matches occur at the $15K level.
And preserving the Sportradar revenue from its dissemination of the live scores at the $25K level of tournaments would help fund that level.
Sportradar extended to 2021
The biggest complication here is that the ITF’s contract with Sportsradar was extended from Jan. 2019 to the end of the 2021 season. And that, despite this review that has been ongoing since early 2016.
Why did that happen? You’d have to ask the ITF.
Its base position is that there already was betting at the lower levels before it entered into its deal with Sportsradar. So, really, Sportradar (and the revenue it generates) can’t be the problem.
The panel disagreed with the ITF’s self-serving assessment. It pointed to the spike in suspicious match alerts from 2012 on.
But that conflict of interest ties the panel’s hands in terms of recommending changes that can actually be implemented.
(Conflict of interest in tennis? You don’t say!)
“The Panel’s position is that the ITF should take such steps as it entitled to take under its contract with Sportradar to implement the recommendation to the maximum extent possible. It is a matter for the ITF to determine what steps are permissible under its contract.”
It’s kind of a problem that nearly three years into the process, after a three-year deal extension, the review panel doesn’t have a handle on this issue.
There were concerns from some of the alphabet soup that having to pass on accepting betting sponsorships meant foregoing “an essential element of the basis on which some events are able to provide funding of prize money.”
They claimed losing that revenue might even threaten the financial viability of certain events. But the panel posits that “no evidence was submitted to support this suggestion.”
The collective written submission supported the elimination of betting sponsorships. The concerns about losing that revenue “were not raised until late in the consultation process – and then, only orally,” the final report stated.
But the panel posits that if tennis has already banned players and their teams from accepting said sponsorships, the tournaments should live by the same rules.
It also notes the ITF already has banned its events from accepting sponsorships from betting companies. It goes without saying those would be the lower-tier events that would need that revenue the most.
And so, the WTA and ATP should be able to do the same.
ATP, WTA need to kick in more
The review panel realizes that the recommendations will hurt the ITF’s bottom line – “a substantial part of which is reinvested in promoting tennis at what is essentially a developmental level of the game.”
So it recommends that the other members of the alphabet soup up their contributions to help the ITF on the development side.
– A new, separate, independent Tennis Integrity Unit with more oversight and a “separate legal personality”, with a CEO. (The tennis collective expects this job to be filled sometime in 2019).
– A bigger, more diverse staff.
–Increased, more secure funding.
–A more thorough and restrictive credentialing process and increased security to keep some of the bad hombres out of the player lounges.
–Measures implemented to deal with the “rampant online abuse of players.” (Good luck with that).
–The addition of in-house betting expertise (how extra-overdue is this?) and the increased use of betting data and match footage to support the cases the TIU goes after (i.e., go beyond asking guys if they’ve been naughty or nice and hope for honesty).
–Replacing the two-stage process (the hearing, and the potential appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport) with a single-stage process to save time and money.
Major backlog of cases
After betting alerts quadrupled in 2015 and the review panel was announced, the TIU increased its number of investigators from … two to seven. The current boss, Director of Integrity Nigel Willerton, says they need 12.
Perhaps they need more. A document dated March, 2017 showed 85 players for which the TIU still hadn’t had time to interview. In fact, in all of 2016, the TIU conducted only 80 interviews.
As of June 2018, that backlog of uninterviewed players stood at 138.
The lack of diversity (English-only language skills in a global game, for example), continues to hamper the investigative process on every level.
As well, the TIU still lacks expertise in betting analysis, tennis expertise and “readily available” legal advice. Especially betting analysis.
After nearly three years, the only real change is that the Review Panel now has concrete numbers and charts to back up what most people already knew empirically.
Most of the betting corruption occurs at the lowest levels of the sport.
And so, the panel’s recommendations are to basically turn the page on the $15K Futures tournaments, where some 80 per cent of the suspicious matches occur. And, thus, attempt to eliminate 80 per cent of the problem – or at least, take it off their radar. Or their Sportradar (pardon the pun).
They recommend the bettors no longer get access to live scoring from those events, the rights for which are owned by Sportradar, which pays the ITF a tidy sum for them.
Since the interim report in April, the ITF has basically thrown the entry level of the professional game into completely disarray. So many players remain quite unsure of how the changes will play out. Many wonder what the ITF was thinking. More question whether it’s even worth continuing to try to chase their dream.
As well, multiple countries have cancelled their $15,000 tournaments altogether.
Or, they have had to revamp their entire competitive structure, because of the changes.
So that’s challenging.
Other than that, they need more investigators, more expertise, and more funding. Also – more cooperation and communication with betting companies and the corruption watch dogs in the individual countries.
(The TIU has added an investigator, an intelligence analyst and an education coordinator in 2018).
In other words, little that we didn’t already know.
After nearly three years and multiple millions of dollars spent, the key will be in the implementation.