A radiating spotlight has encompassed the tennis world recently as allegations of corruption in regards to sports betting have erupted throughout the athletic world. In January, the Australian Open was rocked by contentions of match-fixing, and a more recent investigation by a UK media outlet revealed that half a dozen umpires were banned, or are facing banishment, from their post after colluding with gamblers in Futures Tour.
According to an investigative report by The Guardian, 2 umpires have already been banned by the International Tennis Federation, and 4 others are at risk of being banned. Hailing from Kazakhstan, Turkey and the Ukraine, all have been accused of corruption revolving around betting on tennis, either by taking bribes from betting syndicates and/or actually betting on the games themselves.
The Guardian reported that some of the umpires in question allegedly accepted money in exchange for manipulating the score board during the ITF’s Futures Tour.
“Under the terms of the Sportradar deal, umpires are asked to immediately update the scoreboard after each point using their official IBM tablets,” wrote The Guardian. “This score is then transmitted around the world to live-score sites and bookmakers, allowing the latter to update their prices as the match proceeds.”
The accused umpires are said to have waited as much as 60 seconds longer than usual to update the score of a match. During that time, sports betting syndicates were able to post in-play bets based on the odds for the previous score, while fully aware of the actual score. It was even noted that some umpires may have sent text messages to gamblers with updated scores before pressing the button to update the score.
It’s been suggested that the ITF Futures Tour was the perfect setting for such corruptive behavior among officials, due to its low-caliber exposure. Futures are the “lowest rung of professional tennis”, where players receive negligible pay, umpires are often unpaid volunteers, and little or no television coverage or security is provided. Thus it makes a textbook breeding ground for illicit bribery.
Kazakhstan umpire Kirill Parfenov was named in the newspaper’s investigation for having received a lifetime ban in February 2015. Parfenov was accused of attempting to solicit another official over Facebook to manipulate the scoring of matches. The ITF never publicized the incident, “alerting only a small number of tournament directors and national tennis federations,” said The Guardian.
Another umpire, Denis Pitner from Croatia, received a 12 month suspension in August 2015 for “regularly logging on to a betting account from which bets were placed on tennis matches.” Betting on the same sport for which one is officiating is about as corrupt as it gets, but the ITF chose not to publicize that information, either.
The ITF is also investigating “serious corruption charges” among four other officials, who’ve gone unnamed thus far. It wasn’t until The Guardian’s diligent reconnaissance unearthed all of this information that the ITF was essentially forced to admit those ongoing investigations.
Historical claims of match-fixing have just recently risen to the surface, drawing the reproachful eye of gambling regulators around the globe, and it could impact current legislation that seeks to legalize online in-play betting in Australia.