Three tennis umpires from Thailand have been banned from officiating for life. They were found guilty of numerous offenses that involved betting and match-fixing.
The sanctions were handed down by the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU). The banned umpires are Chitchai Srililai, Apisit Promchai, and Anucha Tongplew.
They were accused of participating in manipulating scores and betting on matches that they were working at during the 2017 ITF Futures event. Each of then admitted they were guilty. Charles Hollander, a hearing officer for anti-corruption, adjudicated the case.
The TIU said: “The lifetime bans apply with immediate effect and prohibit each individual from ever officiating at, or attending, any sanctioned events organized or recognized by the governing bodies of the sport.”
The TIU is a joint initiative involving the WTA, the ATP, the International Tennis Federation, and the Grand Slam Board.
This is a serious issue that had to be dealt with through a lifetime ban. Over the years, match-fixing and tennis have become real concerns.
Other tennis match-fixing incidents
Tennis officials have recently discovered that there is a significant problem with match-fixing. This is especially the case in the lower-level tournaments.
Independent Review Panel investigators released a report on the problem in April. It found that there is a “tsunami” of match-fixing in tennis.
They did not discover any evidence that these issues are being covered up by the TUI or other governing bodies. There were also no indications that the world’s top players were involved in match-fixing.
The review took two years and cost almost £20m ($26.3m). The panel spoke to over 100 players and surveyed an additional 3,200 players; 464 of them said they knew about specific incidents of match-fixing.
The investigation was launched after a joint investigation by BuzzFeed News and the BBC in 2015 showed that there appeared to be extensive illegal betting in the sport.
The lower and middle levels of tennis particularly have these issues. Players and officials do not get paid very well, and it is often a struggle to finance their travel and playing expenses. Taking part in match-fixing is a way to earn enough money to sustain their lifestyles on the pro circuit.
Male matches accounted for 83% of all the suspicious betting activity alerts between 2009 and 2017. While there was some evidence of corruption at higher levels of the game, it was not indicative of a widespread problem at the elite level. There is much less incentive for those at the top of the game to partake in illegal betting activities.
The report made several recommendations, including prohibiting the sale of live scoring data at the lower levels, reforming tennis’s anti-corruption body (the TIU), and ending betting sponsorship in the sport.
Why is tennis match-fixing common?
It was found that players who were finding it hard to make a living from tennis were more likely to get involved in illegal betting.
Because not many people watch lower-level matches, it’s easier to get away with match-fixing at that level. Since 2012, the official ITF live scoring data has been available, which means that it’s a lot easier to fix matches. There were only three suspicious match alerts in 2012, the first year the data was available. In 2016, there were 240 of these alerts.
There are approximately 15,000 professional tennis players throughout the world. Of these, only the leading 350 male players and the leading 250 female players break even after all of their costs are taken into account.
The European Sports Betting Integrity company, ESSA, has found that the sport has had more incidents of suspicious betting than all other sports since 2015. With 60,000 tennis matches available for people to bet on each year, there is ample opportunity for match fixers.
Currently, the TIU only has 17 employees, which is deemed to be too few to deal with this important issue. Potential reforms have been suggested.
The major tennis governing bodies have also acknowledged this issue and have committed to address them going forward. With this latest story of umpires being involved in match-fixing, more light is shone on the sport’s shady lower levels.