Two umpires have been banned and four others are under investigation for allegedly taking bribes to manipulate scores in tennis matches.
In the latest corruption scandal to hit the sport, the International Tennis Federation has revealed that Kirill Parfenov of Kazakhstan was banned for life in February 2015 for using Facebook to contact another official in an “attempt to manipulate the scoring of matches”,
Denis Pitner of Croatia was suspended for a year in August. He passed on details about the physical condition of a player to a coach during a tournament and regularly logged on to a betting account from which wagers were placed on tennis matches.
Four other unidentified officials have been suspended while investigations continue into their conduct.
The umpires are accused of delaying updating scores on the computerised system belonging to Sportradar, the Swiss-based sporting data company that distributes live scores from tournaments on the Futures circuit, the third and lowest level of professional tennis.
They allegedly delay updating scores on this system for up to 60 seconds allowing those attending live events to place online bets before bookmakers have the up-to-date information.
The process is known as court-siding and can result in massive financial gain thanks to the advantage of observing events live before betting markets react to changing scores.
“It is rather like standing next to the 18th green at a big golf tournament, seeing somebody sink the winning putt and then having an entire minute to place a bet on that golfer taking the spoils,” a sports betting insider said.
Tennis authorities have come under fire in the past month for a lack of transparency and it now transpires that the ITF purposely covered up the two cases, only confirming them after reports were published in the Guardian.
The bans on umpires follow claims of match fixing made against players. An investigation by the BBC and Buzzfeed showed that, over the past 10 years, 16-high-ranking players had been repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unity, the sport’s police force based at the ITF headquarters in Roehampton, over suspicions they threw matches.
The majority of players found guilty of throwing matches for gain or influencing others into corruption were found on the Futures tour, where first round losers can walk away from a tournament with less than £60.
Umpires on the circuit earn no more than £400 for a week’s officiating in such far-flung venues as Baku in Azerbaijan, Hammamet in Tunisia and Anning in China as well as Glasgow and Shrewsbury in the United Kingdom.
Adam Lewis QC, a British sports lawyer, is setting up an independent review after he was commissioned last month with the brief of quantifying the tennis anti-corruption programme.
There are fears within tennis that the ITF could be responsible for the scandal after striking a five-year deal worth £48 million with Sportradar that, two months ago, was extended to 2021.
At the time David Haggerty, the newly elected ITF president, said: “Sportradar has been an excellent partner. We look forward to working together over the coming years to further grow fan, media and market interest in the official data from our competitions.”
However the dangers of working with a system that is potentially open to corruption are rapidly coming to light.
“Aside from horse racing, tennis is now quite possibly the most bribery-ridden major sport in the world, with both players and now umpires on the low tier Futures circuit being involved,” the betting insider said.
“If the ITF somehow managed to get out of the contract with Sportradar, the betting industry would be up in arms, but it would massively decrease the potential for dubious practices.”