The Inequality That Gets Ignored

The obvious discord and discontent over the distribution of prize money at tournaments that aren’t one of the four Major Slams seems to be an issue that is increasingly gaining traction, particularly among individuals ranked around 150 in the world and below. These players are having a hard time breaking even–let alone profiting from their talents–despite the fact that they are world class athletes. These hardships plague both the men’s and women’s tours; however, the general grumbles seem to be emerging from the men. Why is that so?

I say this because if men ranked around 150 and below are struggling then the women must be absolutely pulling their hair out. After gathering data it became clear as day that the women are significantly disadvantaged as you slide lower and lower down the tennis hierarchy. That being said, where are the prominent female voices in all of this?

I ask these questions from a completely objective standpoint. As many of you know (especially if you follow me on Twitter), I almost exclusively follow the ATP Tour; therefore, I’m not attempting to make this an issue of sexism. My main concern is that of gathering data, facts, and valid information that can potentially shine on a light on these situations and further answer questions that may arise from all of this.

Please note all prize pool totals collected include doubles. Often players will play both singles and doubles and I’ve therefore decided to include both. The data itself that was analysed was between Jan 2019 to the end of Oct 2019.

The below table shows the number of $15k and $25k events for both men and women.

Men’s Prize Pool  Tournament # $ Total Women’s Prize Pool  Tournament # $ Total
$15k  330 $4,851,000 $15k  233 $3,425,100
$25K 153 $3,748,500 $25K 189 $4,630,500
Total 483 $8,599,500 Total 422 $8,055,600
Prize Pool Differential Between Men & Women $543,900

If one broadly looks at the data available for the period beginning Jan 2019 to the end of Oct 2019, it’s clear that there are a higher number of men’s events available at the $15k level (330 vs 233), with the reverse being true for women at the $25k level (153 vs 189).

As the total number of male players on tour is much larger it stands to reason that more tournaments would be the case at the $15k level – especially when you consider the fact that there are times when the qualifying draws of some women’s events don’t even fill.

The reasoning for females having more tournaments at the $25k level will be discussed further on. It’s an argument I believe does not hold much weight.

The Men’s Challenger and Women’s $60k+ ITF levels

As you move into the ATP Challenger level and compare it to the female equivalent, it’s at that point that the issue becomes overwhelming obvious and quite frankly disturbing. I believe once you see the numbers below you’ll also question what the ITF and the WTA are doing in order to minimize the disparity.

The first thing to do is to establish the prize pools and tournament types at these levels. The ATP numbers their tournaments differently as you’ll see below. For information on where I got these numbers please see the end of this blog.

Men’s CH Events Women’s ITF Events – (actual prize pool numbers on the right)
80 $54,160 $60k $57,000
90 $81,240 $80k $76,000
100 $108,320 $100k $95,000
110 $135,400 $125k (WTA) 125000
125 $162,480

As we can see the men have a greater variety of tournament sizes (in effect an ‘80’ tournament offers 80 points to the winner, ‘90’ gives 90 points and so on), but that’s not particularly relevant. It’s when you then look at the numbers of tournaments available at the different levels for both men and women that it becomes concerning.

Men’s CH  Tournament # Total $ amount Women’s ITF  Tournament #  Total $ amount
80 91 $4,928,560 $60k 49 $2,793,000
90 21 $1,706,040 $80k 11 $836,000
100 11 $1,191,520 $100k 11 $1,045,000
110 6 $812,400 WTA $125k 9 $1,125,000
125 19 $3,087,120
148 $11,725,640 80 $5,799,000
Prize Pool Differential  $5,926,640

The men have a gigantic $5,926,640 extra in prize money to compete for as well as nearly double the number of tournaments available to them (148 vs 80). We will look at this in more detail. Let’s start by discussing the fact that there are 12 weeks out of the 10 months of data collected that feature ZERO women’s events. During that time there are 23 ATP Challenger events going on.

As the graph below will show, you can see the distribution of men’s challenger events (highlighted in blue) vs the equivalent tournaments on the women’s tour (red line).

Screen Shot 2019-09-12 at 1.38.57 PM.png

There is also an element of complete randomness to the women’s calendar. This is highlighted by the month of April 2019, which we can look at:

For women:

Apr 1: $80k Florida (USA)

Apr 8: $60k Istanbul (Turkey)

Apr 15: $80k Alabama (USA)

Apr 22: $80k Charlottesville (USA)

Apr 29: $100k Charleston (USA), $80k Gifu (Japan)

 

For men:

Apr 1: $162,480 Mexico, $81,240 France, $54,160 Spain

Apr 8: $162.480 China, $54,160 Spain, $54,160 Italy

Apr 15: $162,480 China, $108,320 US, $54,160 Mexico, $54,160 Tunisia

Apr 22: $54,160 China, $54,160 US, $54,160 Mexico, $54,160 Italy

Apr 29: $135,400 Mexico, $54,160 US, $135,400 France, $54,160 Czech Rep, $108,320 South Korea

Let’s be clear about what this shows us. Women have one country that will host tournaments in consecutive weeks (USA). Men have China, USA, Mexico as well as tournaments in multiple European countries in 4 out of the 5 weeks in that month.

What impact can this have? It’s often noted that it can be easier to get into a $60k draw than a $25k for women. Why is this? Well let’s assume a hypothetical situation in which you’re a player who plays $25k events often. You might sign up to the $60k in Istanbul on the off chance that you sneak into qualifying, but you know the chances are highly unlikely. 

In meantime in the week both before and after Istanbul you’re due to play in Italy (there were 3 consecutive weeks of $25k events there) and have also scheduled yourself to play in Italy during the week of Istanbul. When the initial acceptance lists come out, you’re 20 spots or so away from qualifying in Istanbul. What do you do?

Does it make any sense to risk flying to Istanbul in the hope 20 people pull out so you can play qualifying when you’re in Italy already and can be for the next three weeks? Just think of the costs and risk involved in flying to Istanbul and not getting into the tournament. In a lot of cases, how can these players justify it when money is tight anyway?

By having such sporadic events where there is no back-to-back tournaments in the same location you are putting players off attending. They can’t justify the risk.

 

In having far fewer comparable tournaments, the tournaments lower down at the $25k level can often be significantly stronger than their male equivalents for females. An example of this can be found in next weeks schedule (September 16th):

Men’s Challenger tournaments: 6

Women’s equivalent: 1

Even if you factor in the main tours, the WTA has 3 tournaments and the ATP has 2 tournaments in that week, so it’s not as if that could somehow be used as a justification for why there is fewer events. Consequently the initial acceptances at the $25k level look significantly different:

Screen Shot 2019-09-12 at 1.49.12 PM.png

 

What’s the downside with this? Well you’re now in a position where you’re competing for the same money as men at the $25k level, but in tournament fields that are comparatively much stronger. At the same time, players of equivalent ranking in the men’s game are playing events for much greater prize pools.

This problem is compounded when you realise that the men also get hospitality at the Challenger level, whilst females  do not have the guaranteed equivalent at their events. This is another cost women have to incur that the men don’t. At the level we’re talking about, this is significant sums of money to the players involved when you’re traveling for approximately 30 weeks of the year.

It’s important to make it clear that the ATP made hospitality a condition of all their tournaments for 2019. Why has nobody at the WTA/ITF worked hard to do the same for the women?

 

Thus far we’ve therefore established there’s fewer tournaments, less prize money available and a more scattered and random schedule. What’s another result of all this?

Well, it’s worth looking at comments made during an interview with Jackie Nesbitt, Executive Director, ITF Circuits and Andrew Moss, Head, ITF World Tennis Tour in February of this year.

“We also learned that average costs for players are around $40,000 per year for travel and accommodation, but only a very small number – about 336 male and 253 female players – were managing to break even, and that is before factoring in coaching costs.”

“To give an example, fewer women break even because there are fewer women’s tournaments at $60,000, $80,000 and $100,000 level compared to men. For every one women’s tournament there are two men’s Challenger events. Our focus is therefore on getting more money into the women’s game and we are pleased to see that in 2019 we have eight more women’s tournaments at $25,000 level and above than in 2018.”

The ITF recognises the problem, but what are they (and the WTA) doing about it? If questioned I am sure the WTA will pass the responsibility onto the ITF, but at some point if the ITF cannot find a way to bridge the gap surely it’s the duty of the WTA to look to step in and help?

It’s disingenuous for the ITF to argue the point that more $25k events for women are some kind of success. For starters a big reason for the increased numbers of $25k events was as a result of the ill-fated World Tennis Tour (Jan – Aug 2019, RIP). Federations were upgrading female events to $25k (Japan did it in particular) because the WTT structure was a disaster and $15k events had become almost useless.

In any case as my numbers show, there are 189 vs 153 events at the $25k level in favour of women. That works out at a difference of 36, which means there is less than 1 per week on average for women more than men. It’s such a small difference as to be almost irrelevant.

One of the differences in the tours to adjust for all of this is that women’s $25k events award more points to the winner (50 vs 20 for men). The idea of this is to account for the lack of tournaments in the $60k+ region and to help move women up the rankings more quickly.

Again, if we look at the data and accept there’s less than 1 extra $25k per week, does it make a big difference in doing that? How many women does that actually impact?

One thing to note that took place as I was looking into the data and writing this blog was an announcement from Oracle that an additional 50 events (25 each for men and women) are to be created in the United States. Currently we do not know at which prize levels, but have been told it’ll go from $25k through to $108k events.

This is great news obviously, but ultimately it doesn’t actually change the disparity or close the gap in tournament numbers.

Whilst it would be churlish to pretend this isn’t still fantastic and Oracle are to be applauded, it’s important not to let the announcement cloud the reality of what is going on in the women’s game. I don’t believe an additional 25 tournaments over the course of the tennis season is going to profoundly change things. I welcome Oracle’s investment and I’m glad they’re getting involved, but there’s a lot more to be done on this topic.

That said, what can be done? I don’t have all the answers and that’s not the point of this blog. I am merely putting out some data (there’s plenty more I could use but this is already too long) and letting you decide how you feel about it. It may be the case I am wrong and people don’t see an issue with things as they stand; however if you do, then we have to question how we move the sport forward for both sexes.

Let’s be clear this isn’t a simple issue. Tournaments are given minimal help from what I can tell (or they’re paid for directly by federations) and it’s often incumbent upon them to find the means and the ability to host the events. It may simply be the case that for many it makes no financial sense to host a women’s event when they have such limited budgets. You may see that as sexist, but I’ve spoken to women who themselves accept men are more of a draw.

If that’s the case, it’s that issue that needs addressing. How do we move the women’s game forward and make it more attractive? How do we carve out more opportunities? 

One thing I would like to see is the live streaming sorted out. The ATP offer coverage of EVERY single Challenger match whilst it’s extremely rare on the ITF tour.

I’ve grown to love watching some male players simply by being able to see them regularly as they toil away in the challengers. I couldn’t do that with the women’s game as the option to see them in action doesn’t exist to nearly the same degree. How does anything improve with such limited visibility? It’s 2019, this should be a non-issue.

It’s also worth noting that the ITF sells live scoring data to the tune of $14m per year. How much of that is pumped back into the professional levels? Does any of it provide financial assistance to help tournaments run? These are questions to which I can personally find no answers. If they exist I’d love to see them.

I believe it to be critical not to look at the data and decide the men have it better so why are they complaining? Things need to improve for BOTH sexes.

Importantly if the data looks as bad to you as it does to me, then we need strong female voices posing the difficult questions and demanding answers from both the ITF and the WTA. Because at present, I can think of none.

That’s almost the saddest bit about it all.

 

 
(1) I have taken the men’s ATP Challenger prize pools directly from the ATP website. On the website it states the total prize pool figure for the tournament. I have then converted European prize pools into dollars in order to make it easier to understand.
The women’s ITF prize pool figures were taken direct from the ITF handbook.

 

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The ATP World Cup Farce

You may have noticed Stefanos Tsitsipas on the promotional posters for the ATP World Cup and yet why would he be? If you follow the criteria as it currently is, he doesn’t have a team to play with.

However due to the recently announced ranking changes he soon will. Want to know what top talent he’ll be working with? Read on.

Let’s look firstly at the qualifying criteria:

How does a country qualify for the ATP Cup and which of its players get to play? 

A minimum of three ATP ranked players, including two members with singles ATP Ranking points, are required for a country to be eligible to qualify. A country may have up to five players. If a team has five players, at least three must have an ATP Singles ranking. If less than five players, a team must have at least two players with an ATP Singles ranking.
This is followed by:
How will entries work?
At the first entry deadline (13 September), a country will gain acceptance into the event based on the singles ATP Ranking of the country’s No. 1 singles player. The qualifying country’s second-highest-ranked singles player will gain acceptance at the same time.

Effectively what this means is a country like Greece (once the rankings changes are introduced) are guaranteed to qualify for the tournament on the basis of Tsiptsipas’ ranking; despite the fact that there will likely not even be another Greek player within the ATP top 500. However, provided they have but even a single point, that’s enough to allow them to play at what will be a showcase event for the ATP.

As it stands, no other Greek player has an ATP ranking, but as I mentioned this will change once the ITF ranking points are converted into ATP points. For example, his brother Petros, a player who has two main draw wins at the Futures level in the last year, will be able to compete because he’ll have a grand total of 2 ATP points to his name.

However if entrants are decided based solely upon their ranking, i e. they get in directly if they’re the next highest person in the nation, as opposed to being chosen Davis Cup style, then Greece has three players ahead of Petros. You could therefore potentially see a team of Michail Pervolarakis, Alexandros Skorilas, Ioannis Stergiou and Petros Tsitsipas supporting the world number 6.

Are Greece alone in this? Not at all. Let’s look at Nikoloz Basilashvili. Again, he’s the only Georgian with an ATP ranking, but with the changes he could end up playing alongside George Tsivadze and Alekandre Metreveli.

Quite what the paying public may think if forced to watch Pervlorakis v Tsivadze, I don’t know.

The sums of money aren’t insignificant either. The ATP itself has recognised there are going to be players ranked below 300 which is why they created tiered prize money based on your ranking.

Appearance fee money is as follows:

NO. 2 PLAYER
Ranking Fee
1-10 $200,000
11-20 $150,000
21-30 $75,000
31-50 $60,000
51-100 $45,000
101-200 $30,000
201-300 $20,000
301+ $15,000
For 22 year old Michail Pervolarakis with career earnings of $22,739, $15,000 in appearance money represents quite the bonus.

Tickets won’t be cheap. Quite what value for money some will feel they’ve gotten when they see some of the potential matches that could be created is beyond me.

It’ll be hailed as a roaring success. I know it and so do you. But in an ideal world people should boycott the event and force the ATP to work with the ITF to preserve and improve the Davis Cup.

I know that won’t happen, but a man can dream, right?

The Problem With Indifference

Too often in today’s world due to the advent of social media, a hot topic is discussed, dissected and then forgotten about as the next pressing issue rears its head.
It’s what allows scandals to blow over, because we’re seemingly loathe to talk about an issue from last week when something new and fresh has popped up.
Sadly this phenomenon is arguably the reason the outrage at the ITF World Tour has seemingly died down.
Therefore I’m writing this blog to look at exactly what has changed for the better, nearly 5 months on from the introduction of the ITF World Tour.
One of the critical issues I’ve highlighted in previous blogs were the sheer number of opportunities that disappeared over night. The numbers I calculated said that in the 3 month period last year from Jan to Mar, there were 7,972 qualifying spots. This was then reduced by 5,692 spots with the changes that were made in the same three month period at the beginning of this year. That’s a shocking number of opportunities that disappeared overnight.
How did the ITF respond? Well they raised qualifying draws by 8, to 32 instead of 24. They argue that to increase it any further would result in players playing two matches a day and they’re concerned for their welfare. This, as much of what the ITF says is nonsense. Players already ARE playing twice a day in a number of locations.
They then go on to claim another issue is that the IRP report that I’ve discussed previously limits them to 7 day tournaments. Simply untrue. It was a recommendation. Unless my grasp of English is a lot worse than I think it is, a recommendation is something you can choose to implement should you wish. I mean, if it’s not and it had to be implemented, then why are the ITF able to ignore the recommendation that live scoring is turned off at the $15k level?

Screenshot_20190428-194300~2.png
In the interest of being clear, the above screenshot is for those who aren’t aware of the additional changes. The things mentioned in the screenshot do very little to address the core issues and so I won’t go into them.
We’re 5 months on and very little has changed. There are two ranking systems, reduced tournaments and reduced opportunities and seemingly no resolutions in sight.

It’s affecting players in a big way and some have simply walked away. 22 year old Omar Salman (link at the bottom of the blog) was ranked 450th at the end of last year then overnight finds himself in the 700’s once the removal of the ATP points from the $15k events he had played was applied. The mountain he was now being forced to climb once again was too much for him and he has called it a day.

Omar will be one of many, sadly.

I was previously active on Twitter highlighting these issues but held back as I wanted to see what changed, if anything.

However we’ve seen recently and shamefully the USTA give their backing to David Haggerty as he attempts to get re-elected as ITF President, so now I guess is as good a time as any to remind people of the shambles he has presided over.
This ultimately isn’t my battle to fight. I’m not a player, coach, academy director or anyone whose livelihood is directly affect by the changes, but I’m passionate about the sport and it’s essential we don’t allow indifference and apathy to creep in. The players need our support and this cannot be allowed to just be swept under the carpet.
I intend to write to the LTA to demand they do not support Haggerty and if you’re a fan of the sport I ask you do the same to your national federation. It may take half an hour of your time, but could have a lasting impact of the strength of feeling and support reaches the sorts of levels it should.

It’s time the sport listens to its fans, whether that be on this issue, or more recently with Justin Gimelstob. Without fans you have no sport, so stop taking us for fools.

Omar Salman link: http://www.aftnet.be/Info/Divers/Omar-Salman-decide-d-arreter-les-frais

 

The IRP recommendations and the Omerta of the players

I’ll jump straight into it. This is recommendation number one.

Screenshot_20190306-102125.png

I’m going to focus on sections 24.1 and 24.4 in particular. 24.1 makes it clear that live scoring at the $15k level has to be ended. I’ve mentioned it before, but I gamble on this level of tennis, it’s profitable for me and to lose the ability to do so would affect me.

I still support this.

Why won’t it happen? Well the Sportradar deal runs until 2021 and provides the ITF with significant funds for starters. But we also do not know if there are break clauses or penalties in the contract. Whatever way you look at it, I don’t see it ending any time soon and I’ll explain why a little further down.

24.4 is a staggering example of the lack of understanding that exists with the TIU and the ITF on these issues.

The Sportradar deal, from several sources I’ve spoken to, does not include the provision that all betting operators that use data from Sportradar are to co-operate and provide data to the TIU. There are memorandums of understanding in place with some operators, but I’ve been told that one of the biggest websites in the gambling world is not part of this. How can they have allowed that to happen?

Recommendation number two:

Screenshot_20190307-115105~2.png

Now, if you look at recommendation number 1, then 2, the cynic in me can’t help but feel the drastic action the ITF undertook in creating the World Tennis Tour was a deliberate attempt to save the Sportradar deal. What better way to defend the deal than by pointing to the fact they chopped off thousands from being able to play the tour?

I’m sure they’d try and suggest that will lead to less corruption and match-fixing and those players were the issue and they’ve been dealt with.

It’s complete bollocks.

One of my favourite quotes is from The Usual Suspects in which it is said that, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”. This is entirely applicable here. For all the talk of the new tour, the numbers of players being able to play etc, the one thing that has been overlooked is that prize money has once again stagnated.

Consider that the desired number of professionals that they’ve decided on is 750. That’s great, but there’s not 750 spots on the ATP tour on a weekly basis, forcing more than half of those 750 to try and play the ITF WTT. These prize pools are such that no pro can profitable play them, so what happens next? Players fix to make ends meet etc. You’re basically just watching a dog chase its tail.

I’m going to skip some recommendations as they’re not particularly interesting.

Screenshot_20190307-120349~2.png

This one made me laugh. Consider this, the IRP panel convened on 2016, whilst the TIU began in 2009. So between 09-16 at least, the TIU was dealing with match-fixing cases without having a specialised betting analyst. I mean, is that a sick joke or are they really that incompetent?

I’ve mentioned the issue of match footage in my previous blog. It’s clear to anyone who gambles that the TIU are overly conservative and do not use match footage sufficiently. They need to find a way, within the legal framework (assuming it’s possible), to allow match footage to become a much bigger part of the case building process.

To that end, if the ITF continue to refuse to end live scoring at the $15k level they need to force all venues to provide live streaming of all courts. It’s really not that expensive to hook up a single camera view of a court. This has to be done.

 

To conclude this section, in my opinion it’s clear there is zero desire within the ITF to end the live scoring any time soon. The creation of the WTT was partly driven by a desire to keep the deal in place.

The TIU are not fit for purpose. 6 convictions a year on average when there are now more than 60,000 matches available for live betting a year is insufficient. But, I do sympathise with them, I think their task is verging on the impossible.

It’s time for the ITF to explain where the Sportradar funding goes, why exactly they will not stop the livec scoring and what will happen once 2021 approaches and the deal is close to ending.

But more importantly this should be the end of the road for Haggerty and anyone else associated with him. The ITF needs a fresh start.

 

I intended to end the blog there, but I think it’s time to be honest and acknowledge that the players are also to blame. For starters, you cannot fix a match without a willing participant, regardless of the reasons they may have for doing it. But as I read further into the report and saw the player survey the results shocked me.

Screenshot_20190307-122139.png

The survey results for the various different questions indicate HUNDREDS of players who know of players fixing. Yet the TIU are convicting an average of 6 players a year? So what’s going on?

If you go back to the Lance Armstrong days, there was an omerta within the peloton. The cyclists knew who was doping but said and did nothing about it.

Can anyone argue the same isn’t happening in tennis? How effective the whistleblower process is, is up for debate, but the survey numbers vs total convictions don’t add up.

I find it really difficult at times to sympathise with the players when I see numbers like those. I’m not accusing all of them and I’m sure some really are just honest people trying their best, but to purely blame the ITF and Sportradar is a real case of whataboutery when you consider there would be zero fixing issues if the players themselves didn’t engage in it.

The ITF need to help the players and turn off live scoring, but equally the players have a duty to protect the integrity of the sport they live and they’re clearly not doing that.

The history of tennis and match-fixing part two

I wish to make it clear from the outset of this blog that I think the TIU are useless. I’ll cover in detail why in this and any subsequent blog I write, but suffice to say that if I were match-fixing right at this moment I’d have little concern that the TIU in its current form would stop me unless I made an horrific mistake.

That said, I think it is important to note I feel like they’re fighting Hydra. Every single time they cut off a head many more are ready to grow back. They’re not to blame for that, the players are.

Whatever excuses a player wishes to use, I’m yet to hear of one being forced to fix matches at gun point. It’s a choice and when you make that choice you deserve the severest of all punishments available, namely losing the right to play professionally again.

Finally, I personally am someone who gambles on tennis matches. I have been on the right and wrong side of matches I have subsequently believed to be fixed. It’s the risk I run when betting on $15k events I cannot watch. I say this because any commentary I make below is not as a result of being a disgruntled gambler who feels a player has fixed every time I have lost. I therefore ask you keep an open mind when reading on because I am trying to be as fair and impartial as I can be.

The TIU from January 2009 to the present day.

The TIU came into existence in Jan 2009 and according to the IRP report have produced 59 successful convictions since then.

Screenshot_20190305-104942~2.png

The report praises them for this which I find staggering. 59 convictions from January 2009 to December 2018 equates to 6 a year. By the end of this week there will probably be a minimum of 6 dodgy matches. It’s a drop in the ocean.

The next section of the report is even more confusing.

Screenshot_20190305-104942~3.png

Whilst I accept there may not have been a cover-up, at best the above paragraph suggests there is a clear and obvious element of negligence when it comes to dealing with those matches that had been flagged up. It also mentions Sopot, which as I said in my previous blog is easily the most famous of the match-fixing scandals to engulf the sport and yet to this day nobody has been caught. We need explanations as to why and specifically as to what data was found and not used on the mobile phone.

These next two paragraphs are key.

Screenshot_20190305-104942~4.png

Undoubtedly one of my biggest issues is with how seemingly difficult it is for a player to get caught. The TIU seem to adopt the level of proof expected in a criminal court trial. Is that necessary? I’m not a lawyer (obviously), but the report would suggest otherwise. Too often it seems like the negligence/stupidity of the player, e.g. Karim Hossam not deleting incriminating mesaages, is how the players are caught rather than gathering evidence that heavily suggests fixing has gone on and being brave enough to back that belief up in a court of law should it come to it.

I’ll give an example of what I mean now. Oliver Anderson was banned for two years, after being arrested and admitting to his crime. The evidence was a series of bets placed that heavily indicated something strange was taking place.

The match itself was broadcast and post-arrest when you looked at the footage it was clear as day he’d agreed to deliberately lose the first set.

Let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute and assume he had not been arrested and confessed. Well, at that point what evidence would the TIU need? Surely the match footage and the suspicious bets would suffice? I’m speculating here, but one suspects not.

I’m going to give one more absolutely blatant example of a fix that has gone unpunished and probably always will. I was also on the right side of this and won money.

The match in question took place in Italy at the back end of last year and was a Croatian derby between Duke Kekez and Franjo Raspudic (feel free to sue me boys, I dare you).

Raspudic took the first set 6-3, winning 28 of 48 points. It was then, with Kekez  2-1 up on serve in the second, that I decided to back him. I felt the price was too generous.

It’s worth noting the match continued on serve until 3-3. Kekez had won 16 of the 30 points in the set until that point. To be clear, at this stage Raspudic had won 42 points to Kekez’s 36.

From then on Raspudic seemingly forget to remember how to play tennis and proceeded to win 9 of the next 45 points, losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-0.

Now I couldn’t watch the match, so who knows, maybe he injured himself? Maybe Kekez just stepped up a level? Perhaps. But what struck me as strange was that the Bet365 website refused to offer in-play odds around the time Raspudic started to collapse and upon my bet winning I had this discussion with William Hill as I did not get paid my winnings.

Screenshot_20190305-120610~2.png

The conversation would indicate outside forces were aware of the something nefarious going on.

So what happened to them? Well Raspudic played the following week and nothing since, whilst Kekez play a few tournaments after in 2018 and played a couple in January this year. So nothing, presumably.

It’s possible they were investigated and cleared. But from my years of following this shit I’d be more willing to wager that the TIU couldn’t find anything that meets their unnecessarily high threshold (which the IRP agrees with) and both players are free to do as they please.

Remember that’s one match I’m showing you. Thanks to the Sportradar deal there are over 60,000 live matches a year. If you thought the TIU’s success rate of 6 a year was even slightly close to the true number that are being thrown, I hope that puts it into perspective for you.

This is a plague on our sport and as I’ll discuss in the next blog, the ITF have still not implemented the one thing that could begin to slow this down.

 

As mentioned in my next blog I’ll tackle the recommendations that were made and query why some of those took only until the IRP report was published for them to come into effect.

 

The history of tennis and match-fixing

After the BBC/BuzzFeed investigation into match-fixing at predominantly the lowest levels of the sport there was a report commissioned and put together by the Independent Review Panel (IRP). This process began in early 2016 and the final draft was released in December 2018. It’s this final report I am going to focus on and dissect.

As I discussed in my last blog, there’s a myth that surrounds match-fixing in that it began when the Sportradar deal was signed in 2012. It’s simply not true. We can go back as 2005 as the IRP passage here shows:

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As you can see, as far back as 2005 there were concerns related to the game’s integrity. The passage then goes on to mention a match in Sopot 2007. This is arguably the most famous case of match-fixing that exists, even to this day. It involved Nikolai Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello. I’ll add a newspaper report as a reference below, but the long and short of it was that the match was so obviously fixed that Betfair cancelled all bets on the match (over £7m was wagered, nearly two and a half times more than a match being played at the same time). That match in Sopot is something I’ll come back to later on.

The next part of the report that interested me was their conclusion as to why tennis is so vulnerable to match-fixing. It’s something I touched on in my last blog and I wholeheartedly agree with their assessment.

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The section 8.3 is crucial to consider. Again if I refer to my last blog I mentioned there’s little doubt that whilst match-fixing existed previously, it has dramatically worsened since the Sportradar deal opened up 10’s of thousands of matches to live in-play betting.

I’m going to skip ahead in the report, but I feel this graph shows to what extent the above statement is true.

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It’s obvious to conclude that as 10’s of thousands of matches became available for in-play betting the instances of potential match-fixing rose sharply.

I would also like to reiterate that those within the ATP who are pushing the agenda of the ITF and Sportradar being the problem seem to have curiously forget the IRP made it clear there’s match fixing at the ATP level too.

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I made it clear before why I believe the problem is so much greater at the ITF level. More tournaments, more players and lower prize pools. But I know this problem goes up into ATP events too, so I’d say again that their live data sales also need to be discussed.

Next let’s look at the response to match-fixing historically and I tend to find section 14.2 incredibly troubling.

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Why do I find it so troubling? Well let’s next consider what they did back in 2003.

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The man in question has been named in numerous media reports as Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

He is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.

To conclude this section, for me it’s fairly clear the tennis authorities were way behind the curve on the issue. The Ings Report back in 2005 was not treated with the respect it deserved and lip service was paid to problem as a whole.

There surely has to be serious questions asked over the Kafelnikov incident also. We need to know exactly what happened and why.

In my next blog I’ll look at what happened from 2009 onwards once the TIU was created.

Links:

Davydenko – Arguello match: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2007/aug/03/tennis.sport

Kafelnikov: https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/tennis/103548811/grand-slam-winner-yevgeny-kafelnikov-was-player-b-who-retired-amid-betting-scandal

The Sportradar/match-fixing problem

Let’s be clear, the ITF signing a deal with Sportradar in order to become its “official data rights partner” is a highly contentious issue for many reasons. One of the things the deal did was to make live scoring data now available for the lowest level of tennis matches. This in turn is now used by the betting companies to offer in-play pricing on the matches, rather than just the pre-match option that used to exist.

It’s important to understand this because the idea this deal created match-fixing is a myth. Match-fixing in tennis existed before this deal and would exist even if the live scoring was removed. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact. But what the live scoring has done is opened up a plethora of markets that means players can now choose to fix in all kinds of ways.

It’s also worth making it clear that betting/match-fixing existed before, because as social media use exploded players have become increasingly subjected to disgraceful abuse by gamblers who have lost money betting on them. But I would argue it’s not necessarily the Sportradar deal that has increased abuse, but the ease and access we now have to players over the many different social media platforms.

Now, let’s look at the gambling issue specifically. I’ll take a match that I will choose at complete random that is currently in-play as I write this (I stress this is no reflection at all on the players involved, it’s to make a few points).

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If I pick the above match, we can see it is an M25 tournament in Trento. The “70” in the bottom left hand corner indicates how many markets are available to bet on. That’s SEVENTY different markets. For a non-televised/streamed event.

I’ll post another screenshot to give you an indication of the type of markets available to bet on.

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Now, as you seem from the above screenshot, there is quite literally the opportunity to bet on every single point, every game, each set and the match winner (and plenty more besides).

The market I have opened up in order to show pricing is one in which you can decide on who wins the 5th game of the first set and you can either back the server or the receiver (obviously!). Now if you look at the pricing available to us, it shows the receiver as a considerable underdog to win the game, as you’d expect. In fact if you placed £100 on it, you’d win as much as £400 back in pure profit.

The point I’m trying to make is we’ve now got non-televised/streamed matches taking place around the world in which players could choose to fix a specific section of the match (not even necessarily the final result); for example by agreeing to lose a particular service game and all it takes is a couple of double faults and some unforced errors, they get broken the bet wins and who is there to notice what’s just occurred?

The money itself is not insignificant either. I’ll show an example from an account I have to prove the point. The screenshot below is from a qualifying match at a Futures event. Think about that level for a second before you see the sort of money that can be wagered.

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For those that don’t understand it, I entered £30,000 as the stake and the website came back and told me I can wager a maximum of £3,000 at evens, meaning I could win £3,000 if Bellucci won the match (plus my stake so I’d get £6,000 back in total). Therefore I can win more in a single match than the winner of the event at the end of the week. Is it any wonder people succumb?

Why is this all happening? Well for one the prize pools at the lowest levels are insufficient. You cannot play year on year at the $15/25k level without accruing losses. But equally in order to move up the ladder you need to be able to play regularly and often, so even those who are good enough will struggle (without outside help). Tennis is like being a university student. You’re being asked to invest in yourself and get into debt with the hope of climbing back out of it later on in your life. It’s an awful system.

But let’s not take away personal responsibility either. As it stands I’m yet to hear of a player fixing because he has a gun to his head. It’s a choice and once that choice is made if you’re caught there should be no way back.

I’d also add that one of the biggest problems I also have with all of this, however, is the ATP behaving like White Knights and acting as if they too do not have an issue. This has become such a problem that there are rumours they took away ATP points from $15k events because the ITF would not turn off the live scoring. This has been denied, however there’s plenty of confusion surrounding the whole thing and nobody quite knows the truth at this stage.

You would have to be naive in the extreme to think the problem is a) confined to the ITF tour and b) disappears if live scoring does. Take away Futures live scoring and one of the things I’d predict that you’ll see happen is an increase in fixing at the challenger level (and fixing DOES go on at that level), as players will be targeted at an increased level. What currently makes the Futures tour so attractive is a combination of low prize pools, far more tournaments on a weekly basis and the fact that the matches aren’t streamed (there are a few tournaments that do, but it’s a tiny % of the total played).

What should be done?

I’ll write a blog about the TIU (Tennis Integrity Unit) when I have a chance, but I fundamentally believe they’re unfit for purpose. In the short-term I believe the findings of the IRP report (tennisirp.com) need to be implemented and it needs to be done now.

The most important thing I’d do is turn off live-scoring for $15k events for now. I am saying this as someone who gambles on them. It would hurt me, but it’ll hurt the sport far more if this isn’t done. I cannot stress how badly widespread I believe this to be. I’m comfortable saying there is fixing going on nearly every single day of the year at that level (easily more than 250 days of the year); whether it be a specific section of the match, or the match result itself.

As I wrote above turning off live scoring at the Futures level doesn’t stop fixing (and the ATP deserves to have some serious questions asked of its own data selling), but for now it’s about stemming the bleeding because as of right now nothing is being done and that’s unacceptable.

Ultimately the ITF and tennis as a whole needs to stop burying its head in the sand on the issue of fixing. They’re letting down fans, the honest players and the sport by continuing to do nothing to address an issue that the IRP report confirms does exist in an extremely widespread manner.

Take action now, for the good of the sport.