What’s going on with Tennis? Ethically, nothing!

Tennis FixingIt’s at this early point in this sports ethics discussion that we are supposed to insert the usual disclaimers such as “It’s just a small percentage of players,” or “We don’t know how much truth there is to the story.” So OK, we said it.

Having said it, we would first state that something is going on (and has been going on) in the world of professional tennis that stinks worse than a pair of used sneakers broken-in under the hot sun of the Australian Open.

The BBC and BuzzFeed have opened an investigation into the world of professional tennis. Specifically the patterns of betting. They uncovered “patterns,” and between 2009 and 2015 (26,000 matches in all), there were numerous matches that are now suspected of having been fixed.

We would like to offer a quote from an excellent piece by Greg Couch in Bleacher Report (January 20, 2016) entitled: “Does Tennis Have a Gambling Problem, You Bet!” where he talks about the widespread problem:

“This isn’t a shock and it’s not even a surprise. It was inevitable. Why? Because tennis has a gambling problem, and its leaders are so tangled up in massive conflicts of interest and so inept about public relations that it didn’t do anything about the problem when it could have and needed to.”

No names please

No, they cannot yet name, names. So before we start debating and arguing at the start of this year’s Australian Open, there is no single name to be accused. According to Couch:

“What that does is put everyone under suspicion…All of their names are now in jeopardy. Is that unfair? You bet (pun intended). But the suspicion is tennis’ fault.”

Tennis, as it turns out, has been sweeping its law suits and gambling problems under the rug for years. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been placed in wager by close friends and “associates” and insiders of tennis stars for years, the same friends and associates who own major tennis tournaments and even (possibly) the executives in the tennis broadcasting world. The friends and associates had inside information, and they apparently used it to their advantage.

To quickly jump to another famous gambling case, this is the equivalent of not only Pete Rose betting on baseball, but the Cincinnati Reds organization, along with the friends of the organization, agents, ballpark sponsors, friends of friends of the sponsors, and even the local networks to boot!

Though rumors of the “inbreeding” and influencing were well-known, absolutely nothing was done about it. The threat of insider gambling was no secret and in fact, the gambling houses sponsored many matches. There is little in the way of firewalls between hard-core gamblers and tennis players.

Though he vigorously denies he was ever influenced, Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic once said in a press conference:

“…in Australia gamblers offered him $200,000, which he rejected, to throw a match in 2007.”

However that same year, Davydenko was accused of match fixing and other lower level players in the circuit have apparently been suspected as well.

Don’t get stuck on names either!

For gambling to succeed in an (apparently) in-bred sport such as professional tennis, major players do not have to be involved at all. It doesn’t have to be a top-seeded player.

Gambling money is gambling money, and if the opportunity exists, to an unethical, lower level player $200,000 or more to fix a match is mighty damn tempting. Taking the dirty money is a choice, and it usually leads to a consequence, but suppose the very fabric of the sport is looking the other way? Suppose all of those feeding at the trough could care less?

What if the player is represented by an agent who has ties to the governing body, that is sponsored by the gambling house, that has ties to the media, who have friends persuading the agent to tell his or her player to throw the match? As far-fetched as it all might sound, it is apparently closer to the truth than not. All it takes is the opportunity to cheat and enough of an enticement to do so.

We don’t have to know “the player,” all we have to know is that the structure is set up to allow an unhealthy closeness between influence, gambling money and bad choices.

From an sports ethics point of view, we would create a scenario where players cannot be influenced by those in higher-up positions. However, we’re not naïve as to the ways of the world. It may be that the better way to go is to eliminate inappropriate and unethical relationships between the governing body, sponsors, agents, media and other entities and to prevent “closeness.”

This pristine sport has suddenly become filthy with doubt. It is killing the reputation that so many tried so hard to create.


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