Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
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Sunday, November 25, 2007
Throwing Tennis Matches
The New York Times reported Sunday on several investigations into possible throwing of matches at the behest of gamblers, including a withdrawal loss by world-No. 4 Nikolay Devydenko in Poland last summer. The trigger for the investigation was irregular betting activity on the match through Belfair, an English online sports exchange. Belfair voided the bets on the match. Its records showed that nine betting accounts in Russia (Davydenko's home country) stood to make $ 1.5 million if Davydenko lost. The story mentions several players who have acknowledged being approached about tanking matches and describes the sense among players that tanking, or at least efforts by gamblers to approach players with offers to fix matches, happens frequently. Right now, no one is naming names. The ATP has compiled a list of 140 "suspicious" matches since 2002.
The common assumption is that mainstream professional sports are not fixable because players make so much money that there is no incentive to throw games. But there are some things about tennis that call this into question. First, while the lack of financial incentive perhaps is true at the very top levels (Davydenko notwithstanding), lower-ranked players do not make the kind of money that automatically immunize them to temptation. The players mentioned in the story as having been approached by gamblers generally are ranked in the second-50 or outside of the top-100.
Second, tennis is an individual sport, so a player can throw a match without having to get cooperation from teammates. Third, Patrick McEnroe is quoted as saying that tennis is a very easy game to manipulate, that a player could throw a match and the untrained eye never would know it.
Fourth, and related, tennis is a long season with a lot of travel and a lot of nagging and not-so-nagging injuries (Davydenko retired from the suspicious match because of a foot injury); even the best players are going to have letdown matches, losing in the early rounds to lower-ranked players in more-obscure tournaments. This last point has two effects. First, it provides a temptation to players--"If I am feeling so exhausted or nicked up to play my best, why not take the money from a gambler?" Second, it makes an otherwise-inexplicable loss less suspicious, except for the strange gambling activity.
Finally, tennis is an international game. Thus, the risks of gambling have to be considered not solely from the standpoint of the American economy but also from the still-developing economies of former Soviet-bloc nations, notably Russia. Several of the stories about attempted fixing happened at events in Russia. This international flavor makes enforcement an interesting question. Both the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) are investigating for possible administrative enforcement. But there is a question of what country, if any, could enforce its laws against such activity and against whom.
Worth watching the story.