Don't Bet on It

Don’t Bet on It

All of us who have a deep affection and enduring appreciation of all that tennis has to offer are worried. Ever since the story broke in August about Nikolay Davydenko being investigated for an alleged match fixing episode in Poland, it has become increasingly apparent that the game needs to treat the potentially explosive problem of gambling and players deliberately throwing matches as seriously as possible. The purity of competition is something we have long taken for granted. If fans start doubting the authenticity of matches, if they are discouraged from coming out to the arena because they think some of the players might not be giving an honest effort, if they lose faith in the integrity of the sport, tennis would find itself in considerable trouble.

Don’t misinterpret what I am saying. We are not yet in a dire situation. But this is no small matter. Andy Murray spoke out this week on the issue, telling the BBC, “ It’s difficult to prove if someone has tanked a match or not tried because they can try their best until the last couple of games of each set and then make some mistakes, a couple of double faults, and that’s it. It’s pretty disappointing for all of the players, but everyone knows it goes on.”

Neither Murray nor any other player has claimed that they know of specific cases when players have been approached by associates of on-line gambling sites and accepted large sums of money in exchange for losing matches on purpose. In fact, a number of players have come forth and spoken up about offers they have turned down. That is encouraging. And Davydenko has maintained his innocence, claiming he legitimately retired at 1-2 down in the final set of his match against Martin Vassallo Arguello with an injury. The British online gambling company Betfair received in the range of $7 million dollars in bets on that match, ten times more than they expected. That is what touched off the whole controversy. The matter remains under investigation, and it is hoped that Davydenko is telling the truth.

What I find uplifting is the willingness of some prominent individuals to speak out forcefully about what should be done to penalize any player who is found guilty of breaking the rules and deliberately losing matches in exchange for substantial payoffs. Pam Shriver, for one, is not holding back. Shriver told reporter Sandra McKee of the Baltimore Sun, “It’s not like drugs, where people say they didn’t know they were taking something illegal. How do you accidentally let someone buy your result? There is absolutely no excuse. You get caught, you should be suspended for life.”

Andy Roddick told McKee that he, too, believes in the same kind of tough treatment for those who accept bribes. As Roddick said, “At the end of the day it is up to each individual to play the right way, with integrity. If you catch someone, kick ‘em out for good.” I agree with them that the penalties must be unmistakably harsh. In some cases, a three to five year suspension might be sufficient. But, either way, players must realize that there is no tolerance for this. Fortunately, the ATP, WTA, ITF and the Grand Slam committee are all working closely together to keep illegal gambling and match fixing out of tennis and not allow this issue to spin rapidly out of control.

It will be up to the players to do the rest. They must police the sport, and make certain that all of the players fully understand that bribes are fundamentally unacceptable. This is a serious problem, but the right steps are being taken to combat it and I remain optimistic that the sport will triumph over those trying to destroy it.

1 Response

  1. Brett

    It was only a matter of time before gambling got its corrupt little fingers in to a sport as pristine as tennis. It is a terrible thing.