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Tennis Integrity Unit ‘focused on low-hanging fruit’

Two years after tennis authorities announced a sweeping review of the sport's integrity regime, fans are still waiting to see how they'll clean up the sport.

In 2016, a global scandal overshadowed the Australian Open after news reports out of London linked top-ranked players to corruption.

That sparked tennis's global governing bodies to launch an independent review panel to examine anti-corruption protocols and resources, including the global Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU).

Mark Phillips, a betting analyst from Global Sports Integrity, was interviewed by the panel and is worried nothing will change.

"Since the review was announced, I can't see that [the sport's integrity regime] has changed at all," he said.

"I'm not so sure that the suspicious matches that are being flagged to them are actually being thoroughly investigated or not."

Mr Phillips is understandably sceptical. He was one of the investigators who first handed compelling evidence of a network of players suspected of fixing matches to world tennis authorities. That was almost a decade ago.

"It was disappointing from our end because we were all experienced sporting integrity investigators and we believed the evidence to be as strong as we'd ever seen," he said.

Mark Phillips

"We felt that it was a really straightforward case for the Tennis Integrity Unit to create a really strong deterrent by investigating these matches, banning the core players that we'd highlighted for them and in that respect could have gone a long way to really cleaning up the sport."

"And from what we can tell, it just didn't happen."

Mr Phillips believes since the review was launched, the TIU has mainly focused on low-hanging fruit — players like Brandon Walkin.

'I've become the poster boy of match-fixing'

In 2013, Walkin passed on a message to friend Andrew Corbitt that Corbitt's opponent Nick Lindahl was prepared to throw a match for a price.

"I didn't realise the seriousness of even just passing a message along. I didn't realise that that was illegal. I know better now but at the time, I didn't think enough of it to not pass the message along," Walkin said.

Corbitt was not interested and ended up winning anyway, later reporting the approach to a referee.

Brandon Walkin

Lindahl was slapped with a seven-year ban over the incident.

Walkin was handed a six-month suspended sentence and found himself at the centre of a match-fixing media storm.

"When it came out initially, it was scary," he said.

"I remember we were getting lunch at the Canberra Challenger and there was a newspaper sitting right next to me and it had my face on the front and I was like, 'I've become the poster boy of match-fixing and I haven't fixed anything'."

Australian tennis player Nick Lindahl who was banned for seven years for match fixing.

He believes tennis authorities need to fix the sport's pay structure which leaves cash-strapped players in the lower ranks vulnerable to the temptation of match-fixing.

"Everyone's desperate to make it and I think financial hurdles, that's probably the biggest hurdle in tennis for a lot of people," he said.

"A lot of times players are sleeping on floors and there's five, six people in a room so it's nowhere near as enjoyable I think as people paint it to be.

"I think if they're able to give the lower ranked players a bit more money, then I think the opportunity or the temptation I think will be a little bit less."

Phillips agreed that tennis's pay structure was too top heavy.

"If you compare it to golf, the guy who finished 200th last year on the money list probably earnt a $1 million," he said.

"The guy who finished the 200th ranked tennis player last year maybe earnt $100,000."

In a statement, the TIU said the pay structure was no excuse for players becoming involved in match-fixing.

"Players are aware of the financial structure of the sport when they graduate to the senior levels of the game," it said.

"Professional tennis at the lower levels is certainly a demanding environment, but that can never be an excuse to consider involvement in corruption as a means of funding a lifestyle choice."

Professional punters 'still seeing suspicious betting activity'

Match-fixing does not just impact players and fans.

Dan Weston is a tennis trader, an analyst who provides advice and statistics to gamblers about tennis.

He said he had continued to see suspicious betting activity that the TIU was failing to act on.

"You don't want there to be any corrupt activity because it screws with your maths basically, you don't want that," he said.

"You want the match to be completely legitimate, you want both players to be trying their best efforts to win the match and that's what we rely on."

He said he was worried about the TIU's ability to do its job with a US$3.7 million ($4.7 million) budget and only 17 staff.

"Personally speaking, I'm not particularly confident that the situation will change in the future. I genuinely wish that it would," he said.

"I don't see the situation having changed much and I don't have a great deal of confidence that the situation will change in the future."

The TIU strongly rejected these claims.

In a statement it said it had carried out an increasing number of investigations and prosecutions and said it was one of the largest and best resourced integrity organisations in professional sport.

"Over the past two years the TIU has continued to evolve, adding more staff, developing important areas of its capability such as education and intelligence and securing more funding, year on year. In addition to TIU-instigated investigations, there have been an increasing number of joint investigations with law enforcement agencies around the world."

It said that in 2017 the TIU received 241 betting alerts through its confidential relationships with the betting industry, and every single one of those alerts went through a detailed process which included liaison with the provider, recording on the TIU database and intelligence testing.

Original Article

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