How the ATP Should Deal with Gambling

Tennis players say they’ve been offered money to influence the outcome of tennis matches. What should the ATP do about it?

Some people in the US complained about the National Football League’s (NFL) treatment of Michael Vick during his dogfighting difficulties. Leaders in the black community asked us to let due process take its course and feminists wondered why Vick was getting worse treatment for animal abuse than other athletes received for abuse against women.

Michael Vick has pled guilty and will be sentenced in December. As for feminists’ concerns, the NFL is obviously concerned about brutality to animals and humans but they leave those judgments to the judicial system. When it comes to gambling, however, they take care of it themselves and dogfighting is gambling. The NFL has no legitimacy if the game on the field is fixed.

The ATP should take note of this. There have been a number of tennis matches this year alone showing irregular betting patternsNikolay Davydenko’s match against Martin Vassallo-Arguello in Sopot being the most notable.

We don’t have any concrete information about match fixing but people are coming out of the woodwork in the wake of the discussion about the Davydenko match. Players Bob Bryan, Tomas Berdych, and coach Larry Stefanki all said they knew of incidents where players had been offered money to influence the outcome of a match.

Dmitry Tursunov and Paul Goldstein said were offered money to fix a match. Goldstein is a good choice because there’d be no controversy if he lost. He loses quite often.

The French sports daily L’Equipe published interviews with two anonymous “elite” tennis players who claim that they’ve seen matches being thrown. The players also said they’ve been offered bribes to fix a match.

L’Equipe is the same publication that somehow manages to leak all of the positive test results of the Tour de France and also reported positive test results on 1999 B samples of Lance Armstrong’s urine. L’Equipe, by the way, is owned by the Amaury Group which also runs the Tour de France.

Sometimes I’m not sure if L’Equipe is reporting the news or making the news but in this case, I’m happy to have the information even if it does come from anonymous sources.

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams wrote the book Game of Shadows which chronicles Barry Bonds involvement with the Balco Scandal and steroids. I was in the audience at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books when someone asked Fainaru-Wada why he and other sports journalists didn’t uncover evidence about steroid use in baseball sooner. He said he would have had to use anonymous sources and people would not have believed him.

I disagree. Anonymous sources are not ideal but once the information is in print, the subject is then out in the open and people will discuss it. And if there’s truth to it, the truth will come out sooner rather than later.

Now that tennis has joined the rest of the sports world with its very own gambling controversy, what should the ATP do about it? The ATP has asked the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to help them investigate the betting on the Davydenko match. That was a good idea and here’s why.

As you can see in this Guardian article, the BHA employs betting analysts whose job is to investigate irregular betting patterns on horse races. One of the sites they monitor is internet gambling site which had the irregular betting patterns on the Davydenko match.

After the Davydenko match, Befair notified the ATP that there was a problem but the BHA takes it one step further. They monitor bets in realtime because they have an agreement with Betfair that gives them access to every bet recorded on the site.

And they get results. In recent months, two prominent jockeys were banned for passing on insider information after separate investigations by the BHA.

Internet gambling makes it easier to gamble but, luckily for us, it also makes it easier to uncover match fixing. Looks for new job opportunities at the ATP in the near future under the category of betting analysis.

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Read more about the irregular betting patterns on the Davydenko match.