World tennis has been warned that it faces a greater corruption threat than any other sport after 73 suspicious matches were flagged to the authorities last year, BuzzFeed News can reveal.
Tennis accounted for almost three-quarters of the 100 alerts about suspicious events issued last year by ESSA, the sports betting watchdog, according to its latest quarterly integrity report. Football – the world's biggest sports gambling market – attracted suspicious betting on just 19 matches.
The report will be released later on Thursday in the wake of the "worldwide focus on alleged match-fixing in tennis" sparked by the #TennisRacket investigation published last month by BuzzFeed News and the BBC.
The investigation, based on a cache of leaked documents from inside the sport as well as an original analysis of betting activity on 26,000 matches, revealed widespread evidence of match-fixing at the top level of the game that has been kept secret for years.
The sport's governing bodies denied there was a widespread match-fixing problem and dismissed the evidence published by BuzzFeed News and the BBC as historical.
However, the latest report from ESSA reveals that the Tennis Integrity Unit was warned about 24 suspicious matches in the final three months of 2015 alone — bringing the total for the year to 73.
ESSA issues suspicious betting alerts to regulated bookmakers across Europe when irregular activity is spotted on a match. If several bookmakers confirm that they are encountering suspicious betting patterns, the watchdog sends a formal warning to the sport's governing bodies.
Its final quarterly report for 2015 notes that tennis "constituted the highest number of sporting events on which suspicious betting took place across ESSA members’ regulated betting platforms" in the last three months of the year.
"That position is a reflection of the general trend shown in the previous three quarters of the year and therefore the overall position in 2015, which included a total of 100 cases of suspicious betting on sporting events, led by tennis with 73 cases and followed by football with 19," the report concludes.
The #TennisRacket investigation revealed that the integrity unit had been warned repeatedly by multiple credible sources – including gambling regulators and foreign police forces – about suspected fixing by a core group of 16 players, all of whom have ranked in the top 50. None of the players have faced any sanctions and eight of them competed in the Australian Open last month.
Andy Murray, the men's world No. 2, called for greater transparency in the sport in response to the investigation, while world No. 1 Novak Djokovic said he had been offered $200,000 to throw a match in 2007.
David Cameron said he was "deeply concerned" by the revelations and called for an immediate independent inquiry into the evidence.
Chris Kermode, chair of the Association of Tennis Professionals Executive, insisted gambling “is not a widespread issue in the sport” and that there is a “zero tolerance” policy for match-fixing. But the sport's governing bodies announced an independent inquiry to "investigate thoroughly the allegations of corruption in international professional tennis". It is expected to take at least a year.
Heidi Blake is the UK investigations editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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John Templon is a data reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2FF6 89D6 9606 812D 5663 C7CE 2DFF BE75 55E5 DF99
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