THE governing body of world tennis was last night under mounting pressure to launch an investigation into allegations of widespread match fixing at the highest level.
On a day that saw the sport caught up in scandal as the Australian Open got under way, officials and top players reacted to claims that as many as 16 high-profile players have been repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) over the past decade amid fears they have thrown matches.
All of us here in tennis are absolutely committed to stamp out any form of corrupt conduct in our sport. There is a zero tolerance policy on thisChris Kermode
A joing investigation by the BBC and Buzzfeed alleges that the suspects include Grand Slam singles and doubles champions, with the rigging taking place at major tournaments including Wimbledon and the French Open.
Prime Minister David Cameron was among those to call for an inquiry into the allegations, saying that the reports were “deeply concerning.”
It comes as Novak Djokovic spoke in detail for the first time about being offered £140,000 to fix a match ten years ago, saying that back then there “rumours, some talks, some people were going around”.
However, he stressed the latest allegations remained speculation, with fellow tennis champion Roger Federer describing them as “far-fetched.”
Documents passed to the BBC and Buzzfeed News include the findings of an investigation set up in 2007 by the Association of Tennis Professionals, both said.
The inquiry, the investigation claims, found betting syndicates in Russia, northern Italy and Sicily making hundreds of thousands of pounds betting on matches investigators thought to be fixed. Three were at Wimbledon.
In a confidential report for the tennis authorities in 2008, it added, the inquiry team said 28 players involved should be investigated, but the findings were never followed up.
Betting investigator Mark Phillips believes the findings of the 2007 inquiry should have been followed up and acted upon by the relevant authorities.
He said: “Evidence that we gathered … we believed was very strong. There was a group of between six and ten players really who were the main focus of the evidence that we dug up.
“We believed [the TIU] would carry on the investigations from where we had taken them; we had done a lot of work … and certainly the betting investigations were a long way down the road.
“As far as we know, nothing happened with the evidence that we presented. Certainly none of the players that we had concerns about faced disciplinary action from the TIU in the next year or two.”
However, ATP president Chris Kermode denied the TIU, set up as an independent body by the various governing bodies, was seeking to hide any suspected improprieties. He said: “It is simply not true that we are sitting on evidence. What happens is that information and intelligence are given to the Tennis Integrity Unit and they then have to turn that into evidence.
“There is a big difference here between information and intelligence as to evidence. Every single bit of information that the [TIU] receives is investigated properly.”
Nigel Willerton, who leads the TIU, said the sport took a “zero-tolerance approach to all aspects of betting-related corruption”.