In the past few weeks the world of tennis has been blighted by allegations of match-fixing. While the claims made against the sport have not been proven, it’s an interesting case which may provide lessons for businesses that want to reduce their risk of corruption.
Reports suggest that players have worked with gambling syndicates to throw matches. The claims have been made following an investigation by the BBC and BuzzFeed News, in which they used an algorithm to review the betting activity on professional tennis matches over a period of 7 years. Their studies highlighted a number of matches that attracted suspicious betting activity. Namely, huge value bets for the underdog.
They identified 15 players who ‘regularly lost matches in which heavily lopsided betting appeared to substantially shift the odds – a red flag for possible match-fixing.’ As BuzzFeed reports, ‘gambling syndicates in Russia and Italy have made hundreds of thousands of pounds placing highly suspicious bets on scores of matches’.
This is not the first time that tennis has been embroiled in allegations of corruption. There have long been rumours of professionals colluding to agree the outcome of matches, or even sharing the winnings after planning a mutually-beneficial outcome (some players are suspected of throwing – or ‘tanking’ – matches that they don’t care to win so they can save their energy, yet still pocket a share of the winnings).
Richard Ings, former executive vice president for rules and competition of the Association of Tennis Professionals spoke to BuzzFeed about how the nature of tennis makes it uniquely suitable for match fixing, “if you were to invent a sport that was tailor-made for match-fixing, the sport that you would invent would be called tennis. “It doesn’t take much effort on a player to throw a match without the opponent or the officials or the fans or even the media being aware.”
Given the level of suspicion around tennis, the nature of the allegations, and the apparent simplicity with which matches can be fixed, one might assume that investigators and tennis officials would be aware of the risks and quick to clamp down on the alleged fixers. But so far, the tennis authorities have been slow to react and have failed to punish most of the alleged fixers.
Commentators are speculating that one reason for the lack of decisive action is the fact that the organisation tasked with stopping corruption in tennis is too close to the sport. The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) was founded in 2008 by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the ATP, the WTA and the Grand Slam Board. If corruption is occurring inside tennis, can an insider organisation hope to solve the problems? Or does the TIU have too many incentives to ignore warnings in an effort to preserve the good name of the sport of gentlemen?
Whether or not the allegations surrounding tennis are true, the affair is a reminder that, for any organisation fighting corruption, internal investigators may not be the most effective route to the truth. When an organisation has too much to lose – and plenty to hide – outside investigators may be the only effective way to reveal the truth. Impartial third-parties may be necessary to break through a wall of silence, or to expose failings that insiders may see as ‘just the way things are’. Perhaps the TIU needs to involve independent investigators in their procedures, and accept that the investigation may reveal uncomfortable truths.
Perhaps the problems blighting tennis are similar to the difficulties that face some businesses: corrupt practices become so commonplace that they become normalised. In such cases it can be challenging to uncover the full extent of the fraud taking place, particularly if employees don’t view their actions as problematic – or if the fraud is so widespread that a majority of employees have a vested interest in maintaining the cover-up. When corruption is part of an ingrained culture, training programs and other awareness-raising initiatives may be required to change perceptions and encourage people to develop a zero-tolerance attitude to fraudulent practices.
Fraud often occurs in situations when people have both a motive and an opportunity. So while it’s important to limit opportunities and minimise motives, it’s also important to shape an organisational culture that does not accept corruption in any form.
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