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Tennis umpires scrutinised and banned in corruption case

Tennis umpires scrutinised and banned in corruption case
February 10, 2016

Two international tennis umpires have been secretly banned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), while a further four are under investigation on charges of serious corruption, according to reports in UK newspaper The Guardian.

Umpires from Kazakhstan, Turkey and Ukraine are among those alleged to have taken bribes from betting syndicates in exchange for manipulating live scores on the ITF’s Futures Tour – which allowed gambling syndicates to place bets already knowing the outcome of the next point.

The Guardian report also suggests that Kirill Parfenov, an umpire from Kazakhstan, was decertified for life in February 2015 for contacting another official on Facebook in an attempt to manipulate the scoring of matches.

However, tennis authorities never publicly released details, alerting only a small number of tournament directors and national tennis federations.

The report suggests that the ITF also kept quiet over the case of another umpire, Denis Pitner of Croatia, who was suspended for 12 months at the start of August 2015 for regularly logging on to a betting account from which bets were placed on tennis matches.

 The ITF has also never publicly acknowledged that four more officials are facing serious corruption charges, and only did so when prompted by The Guardian.

The Guardian suggests that its “investigation will raise fresh concerns about the extent of corruption in tennis and the lack of transparency at the ITF, the governing body of the sport.

“There are also questions over whether the ITF inadvertently created the conditions for corruption to thrive.”

In 2012 it signed a lucrative five-year deal worth $70 million with the data company Sportradar to distribute live scores from very small tournaments around the globe. That meant the bookmakers could provide odds on those matches, particularly on the lucrative in-play market, where odds shift as the games progress – and unscrupulous gamblers had a prime opportunity which they could ruthlessly exploit.

Under the terms of the Sportradar deal, umpires are asked to immediately update the scoreboard after each point using their official IBM tablets. This score is then transmitted around the world to live-score sites and bookmakers, allowing the latter to update their prices as the match proceeds.

However, the umpires are alleged to have deliberately delayed updating the scores for up to 60 seconds – allowing gamblers to place bets knowing what was going to happen next. In some cases, The Guardian suggested that umpires are alleged to have texted the gamblers directly before updating the score on their tablet computer.

In effect the umpires are accused of ‘courtsiding’ – a practice among gamblers whereby observing events live can provide an edge before betting markets react to changing scores – and it meant that bets could be placed on the outcome of games and sets in the knowledge that the chances of them winning were much higher than the odds implied.

The ruse was carried out in ITF futures tournaments in eastern Europe, the lowest rung of professional tennis, where there was little or no television coverage or security, and the poorly paid or volunteer umpires were more susceptible to taking bribes.

Senior figures inside tennis have told The Guardian they fear the allegations are more damaging than the recent more historical claims around match-fixing, for the following reasons:

• It shows that corruption extends beyond players’ fixing matches and into those who are supposed to be the game’s arbiters.
• It also exposes the fault lines in tennis’s claims that is doing all it can to be transparent. In the past the names of players who have been banned for life have always been publicly released. Yet here the ITF stayed quiet until it was pressed by the Guardian.
• The revelations raise the question as to whether the ITF decided not to release that fact that Parfenov and Pitner had been suspended because it feared the embarrassment.
• It calls into question whether the ITF’s $14 million-per-annum contract with Sportradar has acted as an inadvertent facilitator of corruption. By providing a live data stream from those events most vulnerable to corruption due to small prize pools, a lesser degree of oversight, and negligible media attention, did it help corruption thrive?

In a statement, the ITF said that it could not comment further on the four officials are who currently suspended pending the completion of ongoing investigations.

The statement explained “in order to ensure no prejudice of any future hearing we cannot publicly disclose the nature or detail of those investigations.

“Should any official be found guilty of an offence, it will be announced publicly. The ITF code of conduct for officials was amended in December 2015 to include public reporting of officiating sanctions from 2016 onwards.”

It also insisted that the Sportradar deal had helped the game expose corruption, not fuel it.

Click here to read The Guardian's original report.

Images used for illustrative purposes only.

1st February 2016 - LARGEST EVER CROWDS ATTEND 2016 AUSTRALIAN OPEN

28th January 2016 - TENNIS AUTHORITIES ANNOUNCE PROBE INTO MATCH-FIXING

25th January 2016 - MATCH FIXING SUSPICIONS RAISED AT AUSTRALIAN OPEN AFTER SITE STOPS BETS ON MATCH

18th January 2016 - TENNIS AUTHORITIES REJECT CLAIMS OF SUPRESSION OF MATCH FIXING EVIDENCE

18th January 2016 - BBC REPORT THAT TENNIS AUTHORITIES IGNORED EVIDENCE OF MATCH-FIXING BY KEY PROFESSIONAL PLAYERS

5th December 2015 - SPONSORSHIP SURGES AS TENNIS BOOSTED BY ‘CLEAN’ IMAGE


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