Category Archives: Fernando Vicente

Two or Three Things About the Russian Mafia

Lots of Russians pop up when the conversation switches to match fixing.

I’ve been to a lot of self-help workshops in my life, everything from a Sluts and Goddesses workshop to something called Opening the Heart. At one of these workshops we broke into an inner and outer circle. The people in the inner circle rotated to one person at a time in the outer circle and told them one thing they noticed about them.

The organizers of the workshop told us not to get a swell head if one person said something wonderful about us. But they also said that if two or three people said the same thing, there’s probably truth to it. If two or three people think you’re funny, you probably are. If two or three people think your hairpiece looks ridiculous, it probably does.

Since Nikolay Davydenko kicked off the gambling issue in professional tennis after Betfair voided all bets on his match with Martin Vassallo-Arguello in August, the Russian Mafia’s involvement in match fixing has been mentioned at least two or three times.

I’m beginning to think there’s truth to it.

When the first reports came out about Davydenko’s match, they mentioned Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, a Russian mafia figure who’d been implicated in the bribery of ice skating judges in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Tokhtakhounov has some connections to the Russian tennis federation. Russian player Andrei Medvedev gave him a Mercedes Benz and Yevgeny Kafelnikov calls him a good friend.

Here’s a good indication that Tokhtakhounov is a mobster: he was jailed twice in the 1970’s and 1980’s for parasitism. At that time it was a crime to be unemployed in Russia because the unemployed were viewed as parasites, but parasitism also describes the mafia perfectly. They make a living by skimming money off the top of other people’s work.

Kafelnikov actually preceded Davydenko in the suspicious match department. Betting on a first round match between Kafelnikov and Fernando Vicente in 2003 was suspended by bookmakers because large bets were placed on Vicente even though he’d lost his eleven previous matches. Curiously, Betfair was the only betting exchange that stayed open throughout that match.

Why didn’t Kafelnikov’s match kick off the gambling controversy instead of Davydenko’s match? Why didn’t the ATP create a gambling czar and hire experts to monitor betting patterns in 2003?

I can think of a few reasons. The money wagered on tennis was nowhere near as great in 2003 and it is now and online betting exchanges have a lot to do with that. Also, players didn’t come forward in 2003 and say that they’d been approached by people wanting them to influence the outcome of a match. Given the number of players who’ve come forward since the Davydenko match, you have to think that there wasn’t widespread match fixing in 2003 because we’d have heard something about it.

As far as I remember, all of the players that came forward after the Davydenko match were ATP players. Now players in the WTA have come forward. Larry Scott, the CEO of the WTA, told the Daily Mail that “quite a few players” had come forward and there were “quite a few approaches.”.

The women evidently are not media hogs like the ATP players are because they told the WTA directly about being approached instead of going to the media first. Maybe that’s why the ATP passed the forty eight hour rule: players are required to notify the ATP if anyone approaches them and asks them to throw a match within 48 hours. The ATP was probably tired of hearing about match-fixing attempts from the media instead of the players themselves.

Scott also said something that fits into our theme of the day: “’We have got particular concerns about Russia, there’s a lot of activity that comes out of there but it is not the only country.”

I’m assuming Scott’s comments refer to players being approached in Russia rather than any concrete information about match fixing but we are beginning to get some bits of concrete information. The ATP told Davydenko that it has found nine Betfair accounts owned by Russians who would have won $1.5 million if Betfair had paid out on his match with Vassallo-Arguello.

Maybe the Russian mafia has lost some of its business or maybe more people are going into the business and need new opportunities. Whatever the reason, tennis has become a hot commodity because there a lot of people who say they’ve been approached and offered money.

Gambling has been biggest news in tennis this year. I’d love to see the numbers waged on tennis matches versus total television contracts and tournament prize money. I’m willing to bet that gambling money outdoes all other tennis income by millions.