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Fixing in Tennis - The Public Perception in 2016

Twelve months ago, I ran a survey looking at the public perception of fixing in tennis. It asked people with a range of different interests in tennis, whether it being as a fan, as a trader, as a journalist or even as a current or former player, for their views on fixing in tennis, how it is being perpetrated and what could be done going forward to prevent it. Since then, fixing in tennis has hit the headlines several times - the Buzzfeed investigation in January and the reports that the Tennis Integrity Unit are investigating matches at both Wimbledon and the US Open in particular. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to run the survey again to see whether the events of the past year have changed people's views. This article will focus on the responses to the set questions, while I will write a follow-up article based on a number of the excellent suggestions and replies in the additional comments section of the survey.

Vitalia Diatchenko is under investigation around suspicious betting patterns during her US Open match this year

Once again, the response to the survey was excellent with 310 completed surveys. Although this was slightly down on last year, it still provides a decent sample to analyse. Of those 310 people that completed the survey, 48.4% identified themselves as tennis fans, 40.0% as tennis gamblers or traders, 6.5% as journalists, 2.6% as current or former players and 2.6% as 'Other'. In addition, there were completed forms from 49 different countries - the majority being from the USA, UK and Australia, but there were completed forms from plenty of other countries, ranging from Costa Rica to Venezuela and Bulgaria to the Philippines.

How serious a problem is fixing?

The first question was simple - how serious a problem do you believe that tennis has with match fixing. This was broken down into five sub-categories: ATP, WTA, Challenger, ITF (Men) and ITF (Women).

The first thing to note is that the percentage of respondents that believe that there is no problem with fixing has decreased at every level of tennis this year. The WTA has the cleanest reputation it would seem, but there are still less than 20% of respondents that feel that it has no problem with fixing. At ATP and WTA level, it is also interesting that fewer people now believe that it has a serious problem, with more people moving to either minor or reasonable problem. The same is true at Challenger level with falls for both no problem and serious problem.

However, the image of the ITF tour has clearly been tarnished over the past twelve months. Over 50% of respondents believe that the men's ITF tour has a serious problem with fixing, up from 47% last year, while the 34.3% that believe the women's ITF tour has a serious problem is well up from last year, where it was below 20%.

What is relatively interesting is if we look at splitting it out based on how people classified themselves. Tennis fans seem to be more suspicious of the ATP and WTA Tours compared to tennis traders and gamblers, who are far more wary of the lower levels.

How many players have been banned?

The next question was simply to see if people were aware of how many players that have actually been banned for corruption offences since the TIU was established back in 2008. The responses are shown below:

In total, there have been 19 players that have been banned for corruption offenses, plus five officials. Of those 19 players, there have been six that have been banned for life (Koellerer, Savic, Krotiouk, Kumantsov, Jakupovic and Chetty) with a further five that have been banned for upwards of 18 months (Klec, Nalamphun, Olaso, Gadomski and Kocyla). The other eight players have been banned for periods of less than twelve months. The five officials that have been banned by the TIU have all been given life bans. Not all of the bans, particularly the shorter ones for the players have been for fixing matches, but they were all banned for what the TIU deemed as corruption offences.

What type of fixes occur?

The next question started to delve a little deeper into how tennis fixes were perceived to be carried out. While the most commonly known fix involves fixing the actual winner of the match, this arguably contains the greatest risk, given that the entirety of the match needed to be scripted. Whilst it may also be the easiest fix to hide due to the fact that there is more money in the betting market for this, it also generally marks the end of a player's involvement in the tournament and limits any further prize money from the event.

There are a number of alternative types of fixes though that can earn an unscrupulous player additional money, whilst not guaranteeing that he loses the match. This could vary from fixing individual sets, particularly the first set, fixing correct scorelines in sets, fixing individual games or points, or if both players are involved in the fix, fixing the opening two sets of the match before playing out the third set to determine who progresses in the tournament.

It is interesting to note that there are now fewer people that believe that the actual match winner is fixed either often or on a regular basis compared to last year. Instead, there is an increased belief that players are tending to fix specific sets and scorelines or individual games within the match. This suggests that people are beginning to acknowledge the idea that spot fixing is far more likely to be the biggest problem in tennis as opposed to the final outcome actually being scripted.

Who is behind the fix?

Having determined that the majority of people feel that fixing does happen in tennis, albeit to varying extents, the next question attempted to determine who was actually behind the fix. Obviously, the players on the court are the ones that actually carry out the fix, but who was the mastermind behind the plan? The percentages add up to greater than 100% because people were allowed to select multiple categories.

This is a very interesting question to compare with twelve months ago. In 2015, the vast majority believed that it was the players alone that were behind the fixes. However, we can see a huge increase in the people that believe that organised crime syndicates are behind fixes in tennis to the extent that it was the most popular answer to this question. Betting syndicates also come out of this looking bad with over half of respondents believing that they are behind certain fixes.

I would suggest that the changes in responses to this question may well have been significantly driven by the findings in the Buzzfeed investigation earlier in the year, which linked several groups based in Sicily, Northern Italy and Argentina to a number of fixes that took place around a decade ago. However, clearly people still believe that organised crime and betting syndicates are still behind fixing in tennis.

As noted last year, one respondent actually suggested that umpires might be behind some fixes and that has been proven accurate with four umpires having been banned in September for manipulating scorelines for betting purposes.

What would help to combat fixing?

The next question focused on a number of potential ideas for combating the problem with fixing in tennis:

The options that received the highest percentage of answers saying that they would definitely help were greater cooperation between the tennis governing bodies and bookmakers, approaching tennis traders to help identify fixes and increasing prize money on the minor tours.

The first option of banning betting on minor tours saw almost identical responses to last year with 28.4% of answers suggesting that it would definitely help, but as mentioned last year, this is simply not a feasible options in the current day. The fact that only 15.7% believed that increased funding for the TIU would definitely help is a fairly damning reflection on the trust that the public have in the TIU, which will be further explored later.

Logic would suggest that increasing prize money at the lower levels is likely to help reduce the incentives for fixing at that level. It would not eliminate fixing by any means as there are likely to still be plenty of players that choose to take the option of the additional income from fixing, but it might reduce the need that some players may feel to stray to that option. Indeed, some players have indicated that certain players have attempted to justify fixing due to the financial difficulties at the lower levels.

The two options that are most supported are the same as those that were indicated last year and are those that look to use existing knowledge of the betting markets and tennis trading - using bookmakers themselves and traders that regularly trade on the tennis markets.

As we learned in the Buzzfeed report earlier in the year, when the TIU was established, they decided not to employ any betting analysts and suggested that betting data and markets should not be treated as evidence of fixing. Given that fixing inherently involves the betting markets, it seems baffling that betting markets should almost be ignored according to the TIU and it seems that greater cooperation with the bookmakers could only help in terms of identifying suspicious matches. However, this has to be a two-way deal with the bookmakers looking to actively help the TIU by reporting suspicious matches, which they do not always appear to do.

As one might expect, of those that identified themselves as tennis traders or gamblers were strongly in favour of approaching tennis traders to help identifying fixes, but all groups were in favour of this option, with not one group falling below 30% answering that it would definitely help.

How much faith do you have in the TIU?

The Tennis Integrity Unit describe themselves as being 'charged with enforcing the sport's zero-tolerance policy toward gambling-related corruption worldwide' and claims it has a 'global brief to protect the sport from all forms of betting-related corrupt practices.'

However, they work in a very secretive manner and there appears to be little confidence in them to actually carry out this brief, not only among fans of the sport, but even among the players themselves. An unnamed player explained how he reported an approach to the TIU, but nothing ever came of it, while Peter Polansky said the following:
"From the chatter around the guys, it sounds like it's something that definitely happens, and quite often. It happens, and there's not a whole lot anyone can do about it"
When even the players do not believe that the TIU can do anything about fixing, it is difficult to see how the TIU can possibly act as a disincentive to fixing in its current form. This question was aimed at determining whether the public had any faith in the TIU to do their job:

The answer would seem to be not. It is telling that exactly zero answers said that they had complete faith in the TIU to reduce the problem of fixing in tennis. At the other end of the scale, almost 30% had no faith whatsoever in the TIU and another 38.9% had little faith. For a body whose sole aim is to protect the sport from betting-related corrupt practices, it seems that virtually nobody has any faith in them to actually carry out their goal.

Level of Proof

The final question focused on the level of proof that should be required for the TIU to impose a ban on a player. The two options were taken from the legal system. The first was 'Beyond Reasonable Doubt', which is generally the level of proof required to validate a criminal conviction in most legal systems. It places the burden of proof on the shoulders of the prosecutor, who must prove that a player has fixed an outcome to the extent that there could be no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person. The second option was 'Balance of Probabilities', which is more commonly used in civil disputes, which requires that the dispute be decided in favour of the party whose claims are more likely to be true.

To prove beyond reasonable doubt that a player has fixed an outcome is very difficult. Unless you have bank statements showing money from a bookmaker or phone or text records proving a fix took place, it is almost impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt, even if the betting markets strongly suggest that the outcome was fixed.

There has been quite a large increase in those answering 'Beyond Reasonable Doubt' with a rise of over 10% from last year. One can only speculate as to the reason for this, but one suggestion could be the issues around the Buzzfeed investigation that falsely flagged up the likes of Lleyton Hewitt as likely fixers. The embarrassing nature of that might have led people to feel that stronger evidence is needed before banning players for corruption offences.


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