Tennis alert drop off casts doubt on IRP data findings

Sportradar has suggested that the Independent Review Panel (IRP) would have delivered a different set of conclusions about corruption in tennis had it been completed a year later.

David Lampitt, MD of Sports Partnerships at Sportradar, pointed to the “dramatic drop off in the number of integrity alerts for tennis over the last 12 months” as evidence that the situation was improving irrespective of the IRP’s high-profile intervention, particularly as many of its recommended measures are still not in place.

Back in December 2018, the panel published its final recommendations, which included reversing a previous proposal to discontinue the sale of live data for International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments at the $25,000 level, while still concluding that a complete ban on data at the $15,000 developmental tier was necessary to protect the sport’s integrity.

Some of the recommendations are now in place, such as the formation of a Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) Supervisory Board, which met for the first time at this year’s French Open. 

However, as Lampitt explained, we are in something of a “transitional phase” as some of the recommendations will be much easier to implement than others.

Speaking on the tennis panel at last month’s Betting on Sports conference in London, he said: “Some of the recommendations will be easier to implement than others, while some will happen much quicker. The discontinuance of data is not necessarily one of those things, because you can’t flick a light switch and turn off all of that data. 

“The other really important thing to remember about the recommendations – in particular the discontinuance of data at the $15,000 level – is that it was contingent on a raft of other measures being implemented at the same time. 

“Until all of those other things are there and ready to go, the transitional process will be ongoing. 

“What that means in reality, for the bookmakers in the room, is that we as the official provider are continuing to offer ITF Tennis at $25,000, which the IRP ended up approving, as well as at $15,000 but we are working closely with the TIU, ITF and the Supervisory Board to manage the implementation process towards discontinuance of data at that level.”

Lampitt also took the opportunity to dismiss the notion that corruption is more widespread at the lower levels of the sport, adding: “If you look at the ratio of risk across tennis, actually the lowest level ($15,000 and $25,000) – over the whole course of the years that the IRP looked at – were never the highest risk in terms of the likelihood of a match being corrupted. 

“That highest risk based on their own information was actually at the ATP Challenger level. There are a number of good reasons for that not least because there’s more betting on it, you can get more money on it. Those fixing matches are driven by a profit motive.

“We’ve seen a dramatic drop off in the number of integrity alerts over the last 12 months. I’m sure the IRP would like to think that it’s down to what they’ve done, and whilst that may be a factor, many of their measures are not yet in place. There are some external reasons for it (the drop off), such as some big arrests and a couple of major criminal cases involving tennis fixers.

“However, from Sportradar’s perspective, one of the things we were doing even before the final report came out was removing coverage of high-risk matches on a very targeted basis. We’d like to think this has also contributed to the positive impact. We continue to do that, managing the ITF coverage in a proactive way by using technology, using pattern recognition and applying advanced risk analysis. 

“All of those factors have contributed. Perhaps if the report was coming out now, we wouldn’t have ended up in the same place.”

One of Lampitt’s co-panelists was Jason Foley-Train, a betting integrity consultant representing the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA). He suggested that while the decision ultimately rests with the tennis authorities, we shouldn’t expect the data ‘turn off’ to take force until at least the end of next year.

Foley-Train said: “There were two options looked at as I understand it, turning it off at the end of 2020 or the end of 2021 which coincides with some other contractual conditions. We’re hopeful that the end of 2021 is where we will get to. I think that works for everybody, but the ball is in their court. It’s up to the tennis authorities to decide what they want to do.” 

“The IRP was very clear. They rowed back on their initial interim report where they suggested removing data from the 15s and 25s. The operators were clear that they could only stomach losing the 15s if the 25s were increased and there was better scheduling. I think that’s pretty much what the IRP came out with.”

He added: “I don’t think the IRP really accepted or understood that there were difficulties in pricing. They just looked at an alert and effectively said that equals match fixing. 

“The resources that have been put to the TIU over the last year or so has made a big impact, the criminal cases have made a big impact. There’s a whole package of issues there which had tennis put the proper resources in place a couple of years ago we wouldn’t be here now. 

“If the IRP had understood a bit more about the pricing issues, I think they wouldn’t have just looked so closely at the numerical values and ratios. It would have shed a different light on the situation.”

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