In a riveting exposé by The Washington Post, a sprawling match-fixing operation has cast a dark shadow over tennis. This extensive investigation unraveled the sinister underbelly of the sport, shedding light on how the evolving landscape of gambling has ensnared tennis in its clutches.
This shocking tale is meticulously pieced together through numerous interviews with players, coaches, investigators, tennis officials, and match-fixers. The Post obtained a treasure trove of evidence, including tens of thousands of text messages from the central match-fixer, hundreds of pages of confidential European law-enforcement documents, and transcripts from the interrogations of players.
Tennis’ Unprecedented Gambling Surge
Over the past few years, tennis has witnessed an explosive surge in gambling activity, with approximately $50 billion being wagered annually.
Astonishingly, a quarter of this staggering sum is staked on matches within the sport’s lowest tier, many languish in obscurity without television coverage and offer paltry prize money—often a meager $2,000 for the tournament victor.
Within this overlooked tier, match-fixers have identified a fertile ground for corrupt players struggling to secure a sustainable income.
Vulnerability of the International Tennis Federation
With an astounding 47,000 matches occurring across 65 countries each year, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) found itself particularly susceptible to the scourge of match-fixing.
The advent of “spot betting,” allowing gamblers to bet on individual points or games rather than the match outcome, has enabled players to collude with match-fixers discreetly, compromising the integrity of even the least-watched contests while seemingly defeating their opponents.
The Belgian Match-Fixing Cartel
Nestled in Belgium, a formidable match-fixing cartel led by Grigor Sargsyan recruited over 180 professional players from more than 30 countries. Their nefarious agenda involved manipulating matches, or segments thereof, unprecedentedly in tennis history.
Sargsyan went to great lengths to keep his roster content, distributing envelopes filled with cash at Paris train stations, treating players to extravagant dinners, and even purchasing an engagement ring for one player’s girlfriend.
The Lingering Menace
Despite Sargsyan’s arrest and subsequent conviction, professional tennis continues grappling with the ominous specter of approximately 100 alerts signaling irregular betting each year—an alarming figure surpassing any other sport.
Astonishingly, the ITF has prolonged its contract with Sportradar, a Swiss company that furnishes real-time data on obscure tennis matches to gamblers worldwide. This decision came despite a 2018 internal review warning of the contract’s potential impact on match-fixing syndicates.
International Crackdown on Sports Gambling Links to Organized Crime
Law enforcement agencies worldwide have grown increasingly alarmed at the nexus between sports gambling and organized crime. The FBI and Interpol have established dedicated units to combat match-fixing, while the United Nations has recognized organized crime as a “major and growing threat to sport.”
Within the tennis community, a specialized team of investigators has been assembled to interrogate players and confiscate their phones when suspicions arise concerning match manipulation. It was the relentless efforts of this investigative team, coupled with the unwavering determination of a Belgian police officer, that ultimately dismantled Sargsyan’s match-fixing empire.