Monday, 18 January 2016

Tennis match-fixing: Novak Djokovic 'felt terrible' about approach in 2006 as players react to scandal

World number one and Australian Open favourite Novak Djokovic has revealed he "felt terrible" about being approached to fix a tennis match when he was a teenager in 2006.

Tennis authorities have rejected claims of evidence suppression after a joint BBC-BuzzFeed investigation said current and former top 50 players, including several at this month's Australian Open, are suspected match-fixers.
PHOTO: Fixing offer ... Novak Djokovic. (AAP: Lukas Coch)
PHOTO: Fixing offer ... Novak Djokovic. (AAP: Lukas Coch)
The report said a strong body of evidence was behind a referral of a core group of 16 men - including grand slam winners - to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) in 2008.

Djokovic said he had been approached to throw a match 10 years ago, but stressed he had never spoken to the fixer.

"I was not approached directly. I was approached through people that were working with me at that time," he said in Melbourne.

"Of course, we threw it away right away. It didn't even get to me, the guy that was trying to talk to me, didn't even get to me directly. There was nothing out of it.

"Unfortunately in those times [there were] rumours, some talks, some people were going around. They were dealt with.

"In the last six, seven years, I haven't heard anything similar. I personally was never approached directly, so I have nothing more to say about that."

Djokovic was reportedly offered $US200,000 ($290,000) to throw the match, but the Serb insisted match-fixing is "a crime in sport".

"[The approach] made me feel terrible because I don't want to be anyhow linked to this kind of thing," he said.

"Somebody may call it an opportunity. For me, that's an act of unsportsmanship, a crime in sport, honestly. I don't support it.

"I think there is no room for it in any sport, especially in tennis. I always have been taught and have been surrounded with people that had nurtured and respected the sport's values. That's the way I've grown up.

"Fortunately for me, I didn't need to get directly involved in these particular situations."

'No real proof' of fixing today: Djokovic.

However, Djokovic said there was "no real proof" of match-fixing among top players on the tennis circuit today.

Evidence uncovered by the joint investigation also included a bundle of leaked internal documents - the so-called Fixing Files - and analysis of betting on 26,000 tennis matches.

The leaked files reportedly contained evidence of suspected match-fixing by gambling syndicates based in Russia and Italy uncovered as a result of an investigation in 2008, but over which no action had been taken.

No players have faced sanction, and none are named in the report.

Djokovic, speaking after his first-round victory at the Australian Open, said the allegations were just that.

"I don't think the shadow is cast over our sport," he said.

"There's no real proof or evidence yet of any active players ... as long as it's like that, it's just speculation. We have to keep it that way."

Top women's seed Serena Williams said she was not aware of any match-fixing in tennis.

Williams admitted she was not overly well-versed on the story, but said she had not seen any signs of it.

"I can only answer for me. I play very hard and every player that I play seems to play hard," she told reporters after her first-round win over Camila Giorgi.

"As an athlete I do everything I can to be, not only great, but historic and if that's going on, I don't know about. Sometimes I'm in a bubble."
Serena Williams says she has never encountered any hint of match fixing in her matches.
Serena Williams says she has never encountered any hint of match fixing in her matches.

Buzzfeed journalist calls for more transparency in tennis

BuzzFeed journalist Heidi Blake defended her report, calling for more transparency from tennis authorities.

"In secret, behind closed doors, [tennis authorities] looked at the files ... files full of evidence investigators themselves said was the strongest evidence they'd ever had," she told the ABC.

"These are experienced betting, corruption and crime investigators.

"Tennis authorities looked at it and they decided not to investigate it further.

"I do think world tennis has some really serious questions to answer about why this evidence was under lock and key for so long."

World number 15 Gilles Simon slammed the report.

"It's useless ... just dropping a bomb to (get people to) talk about it, waiting for the first day of a slam," said Simon, who is also the ATP Player Council's vice president.

"If anyone has any evidence, say it, and we'll be happy to know and take action.

"There is not much to say because there was not much inside."
PHOTO: A 2007 match involving Martin Vassallo Arguello and Nikolay Davydenko was investigated for betting irregularities. (AFP)
PHOTO: A 2007 match involving Martin Vassallo Arguello and Nikolay Davydenko was investigated for betting irregularities. (AFP)
ATP president Chris Kermode told a press conference in Melbourne that there was no truth to suggestions that tennis authorities were not taking match-fixing seriously or failing to investigate allegations.

"The Tennis Integrity Unit and the tennis authorities absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match fixing has been suppressed for they reason or isn't being thoroughly investigated," he said.

"While the BBC and BuzzFeed reports mainly refer to events from about 10 years ago, we will investigate any new information and we always do."

Kermode had earlier told the BBC that while match-fixing did occur in tennis, he believed it was at an "incredibly small level".

"I think it will be seen that tennis is in a very, very good place and we are acting accordingly," he said.

Tennis Integrity Unit head Nigel Willerton said authorities had drawn a line under the evidence uncovered, because lawyers had advised that a new integrity code introduced in the wake of the 2008 investigation could not be enforced retrospectively.

"As a result, no new investigations into any of the players who were mentioned in the 2008 report were opened," Willerton said.

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