Panel move to investigate 45 'suspicious' matches

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The Independent Online

An independent panel concluded yesterday that 45 professional matches from the past five years require further review because of suspicious betting patterns. The International Tennis Federation, the ATP, the WTA Tour and the four Grand Slams published the findings of the panel in a 66-page report.

The review, conducted by two Scotland Yard detectives, said that "professional tennis is neither systematically nor institutionally corrupt," but added that 45 matches require further examination. It did not say which matches were still under suspicion.

The review said it had examined 73 matches over the past five years, and 45 remain under suspicion "from a betting perspective".

"That said, we have found no evidence of any 'Mafia' involvement in corrupting the integrity of tennis," the report said.

"We do not doubt that criminal elements may be involved in seeking to subvert or corrupt some players/officials and that they may even involve organised criminal gangs."

Betting in tennis came to the fore last year after fourth-ranked Nikolai Davydenko withdrew against 87th-ranked Martin Vassallo Arguello in the third set of a match in Poland because of a foot injury. An online betting site, in an unprecedented move, voided all bets on the match because of suspicious betting patterns.

Since the Davydenko match, others have said they have been approached by outsiders trying to influence a match. The Belgian player Gilles Elseneer said he was offered – and turned down – more than $100,000 (£51,000) to lose a first-round match against Potito Starace of Italy at Wimbledon in 2005.

"There are strong intelligence indications, however, that some players are vulnerable to corrupt approaches and there are people outside tennis who seek to corrupt those within the sport," the review said.

Five players, all Italians, have been found guilty of betting on tennis and have been fined or suspended.

In February, the French Open filed suit in an attempt to ban online gambling companies from offering bets on the Grand Slam tournament, but last month a Belgian court ruled in favour of the betting companies. The French Open starts on Sunday.

Besides noting the 45 matches still to be investigated further, the review panel made 15 recommendations the four bodies accepted, including agreeing upon a uniform anti-corruption programme and an integrity unit.

"The findings of this review clearly demonstrate the need for having an integrity unit," said Jeff Rees, one of the leaders on the independent panel. "The aim to rid any uncertainty or implication of corruption in tennis is fundamental to the reputation and future standing of the game and is fully supported by all international tennis bodies."

Another of the recommendations allows only players and essential tournament personnel to have access to the locker rooms at tournaments.

The report said many believe that insider knowledge, such as a player's injury or illness that is not widely known, gets passed on to punters from people inside the locker rooms.

* The world No 6 Andy Roddick has pulled out of next week's French Open because of a problem with his back and shoulder, his brother John Roddick said yesterday at the World Team Cup in Düsseldorf. The American former world No 1 sustained the injury at this month's Rome Masters and had to pull out of his semi-final match against Stanislas Wawrinka trailing 3-0 in the first set.