That match-fixing exists in tennis is nothing new. But that Grand Slam winners are also involved in throwing matches, possibly in top tournaments like Wimbledon, is the crucible confronting the world game.
A 2008 internal enquiry commissioned by the Association of Tennis Professionals found as many as 28 shady players, the BBC and BuzzFeed have reported. The report suggests that a core group of 10 players were consistent offenders. Disturbingly, the body apparently did nothing to expose the black sheep, and the results of the enquiry seem to have been quickly brushed under the carpet. It appears that federations, both national and international, routinely protect top performers. At the root of this apathy is of course the basic fact that stakeholders in a sport can’t afford to have its credibility questioned. They tend to lose just as much as the ones they expose.
Match-fixing has reared its ugly head closer home. Winner of twelve doubles Grand Slam titles Mahesh Bhupathi once claimed that he had been approached to fix a Davis Cup match and Asian doubles gold winner Gaurav Natekar claimed that he had been approached to throw his final at the Hiroshima Games in 1994. These are the bits that became public. Insiders know for a fact that many players bet; typically, even if someone else fronts the wagers, the players provide the information. The crux of a winning bet lies in access to information that very few have: The injuries afflicting one player, or the early flight that another may want to take. Players willing to arbitrage such information gleaned in locker rooms stand to make a killing. Betting on one’s own games and trying to fix the outcome to win the bet takes the matter to another depth altogether.
Tennis’s governing bodies worldwide set up the Tennis Integrity Unit to stamp out just such corruption. Now they need to take their investigations to their logical conclusion and make public their findings. The administrators of the sport need to get over their fear of short-term monetary losses and look instead at the long game, re-establishing credibility in the eyes of fans and the clean players the world over. Otherwise, tennis could experience the sort of crisis that has hit world cricket, that other money-spinner of a spectator sport.