Tennis Australia’s Steve Healy. Photo: Rohan ThomsonThe need for greater transparency in tennis match-fixing investigations must be mitigated by the rights of the individuals concerned, says Tennis Australia president Steve Healy, who has branded as “shocking and appalling” the unsubstantiated smear over a 2011 Davis Cup match involving Lleyton Hewitt.
ATP executive chairman Chris Kermode also backed the former world No.1, whose name was on a leaked list of players involved in matches found to have attracted suspicious betting patterns. Vigorously denying any wrongdoing, Hewitt labelled the suggestion as “an absolute farce” last Thursday night after the final singles match of his career.
“Lleyton Hewitt, as we all know, is one of the greatest competitors of all time. I’m not sure he’d give his mother one point when he was playing,” Kermode said during Wednesday’s announcement of an independent review into the sport’s anti-corruption procedures, and a pledge to implement all its recommendations.
Healy said it was outrageous to target Hewitt’s loss to Stan Wawrinka in the final rubber of the 2011 world group play-off in Sydney on any list of suspicious matches. “I watched the whole of that match, he tried his heart out; it was unbelievable he got as close as he did,” Healy said of Hewitt.
“He was playing on one leg, he’s barely played a match all year, and still he got close. You couldn’t fault his effort. And in the end, he says publicly, it’s the only match he’s ever cried after, he was so devastated to have lost the fifth and deciding rubber, and they throw that out, and his name out [there]. I think it’s just shocking.”
Healy says Tennis Australia’s support for the unveiling of the independent review, headed by British barrister and sports law expert Adam Lewis, is designed to provide some “clear air” for the remaining four days of an otherwise-successful grand slam hijacked by the match-fixing debate.
“Our view is that while it’s unfortunate it’s happening during our tournament, and we’re unhappy really at what was a really targeted thing to attract maximum publicity for the BBC and the journalists, we’re fully supportive of this,” Healy said, in reference to the BBC and BuzzFeed reports released on the eve of the year’s first major event.
“It’s a whole-of-sport issue, and we think not only is it good for the sport to move on this and move quickly, we think it’s good for the tournament to get it out there. What I hope now is that we get some clear air to the end of the tournament, because it’s been probably the best Australian Open we’ve ever done, and it deserves to stand in its own right without all the negatives around it.”
The TA boss supported the publication of an annual or bi-annual report to provide updates into match-fixing investigations and anti-corruption activity, but also stressed that the rights of athletes not to have their names aired without sufficient evidence was paramount, and said a better balance must be struck in that regard.
“In general terms we need to at least tell the tennis media and the public about how much work [the Tennis Integrity Unit] is doing and how many investigations,” he said. “But I do think the naming of the players this time that the BBC appeared to have leaked, is just appalling.
“Without evidence other than there was a suspicious activity, and red-flag something to investigate, they’ve just thrown the names out there and besmirched people’s reputations. That’s appalling, so I don’t think ever that it should extend to that, the second that there’s anything investigated throw their names out [there], because it may not lead anywhere and they may be cleared.”
Healy did not elaborate on whether there was scope to terminate the Australian Open’s commercial arrangement with betting outfit William Hill should the review find it inappropriate for tournaments to be sponsored by gambling companies. He reiterated that TA was comfortable with the deal at the time it was signed, and reiterated the difference between legal betting and that related to match-fixing or corruption.
“I don’t think you can look backwards in that sense. We’ve passed it through the TIU and it’s fine,” Healy said. “But I accept the public perception of it around the timing of this is difficult, but I think that needs to be taken into account. We will look at all of those reviews, and so on, and in the future with all of our sponsorships, anything that is that sort of product, or is sensitive publicly, we will look at.”
He said there would be no extra complication with the deal if the review leads to in-play betting being banned, as is the case in France, for example, and said that in-play betting was the area of greatest concern to tennis authorities.
“The in-game betting is the one that is I think the easiest to corrupt for those that are wanting to do that, so that’s a discussion we have in Australia as well with our government, and I’ve spoken with a couple of government ministers already about that. We will discuss that at board level and we’ll discuss that with the government.”
Healy said that although the fact the Open’s $44 million prize pool this year dwarfed the $19.94 million spent on operating the Tennis Integrity Unit since its establishment in 2008, no expense would be spared.
“You can throw more and more at it; how much is enough? So I think we’ll wait for the results of that review and see what [Lewis] says and his co-reviewers as to, what we need, but as far as Tennis Australia is concerned we will put in whatever it takes, because it’s the reputation of the sport, and so cost is, in that sense, irrelevant. We’re protecting the integrity and there’s no limit on what we will pay to fund that.”
Kermode praised the Australian Open’s co-operation with the timing of Wednesday’s announcement, despite the fact it will continue to overshadow an event now at the pointy end.
“It has been hard on the Australian Open, no question about it,” Kermode said. “Obviously the report was timed to hit at this point, to try and create as big a story as possible. But they’ve been unbelievably supportive of the actions we’ve taken. They’re fully behind this. They agree we had to hit this head on now even though it was during the championships.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.