Adam Lewis: IRP – Tennis needs to rethink structure & betting relationships to win its integrity battles

Adam Lewis sports law QC has stated that tennis needs to readdress its relationship with betting if the sport is to diminish corruption and match-fixing.

Yesterday, Lewis who has led tennis’ independent Integrity Review Panel (IRP), revealed the findings of a two-year study researching the sport’s match-fixing, corruption and betting-related issues.

At a press conference in London, Lewis outlined that the IRP had found ‘that corruption had taken root at the heart of tennis, particularly at the lower levels of the game’.

In its study, the IRP surveyed more than 3,200 professional tennis players, with 464 athletes stating that they ‘had first-hand knowledge of match fixing’.

Leading the investigation, Lewis notes the unique make-up of professional tennis, which supports a global tournament framework in which athletes compete primarily on an individual basis.

The IRP details that the lower and middle ranks of tennis, are simply too open to betting breaches, with bad actors having easy access to competing athletes, coaches and family members.

Combatting match-fixing at the lower levels of tennis, Lewis and the IRP believe that the sport faces both structural and betting-related challenges.

From an operational viewpoint, the IRP states that there are too many professional tennis players, and recommends that the governing bodies of the ATP, WTA and ITF reevaluate their ranking systems and tournament frameworks.

In addition, governing bodies should move to restructure the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), which was found to be severely under-funded, and operating without any betting expert.

Structurally the IRP further recommends that governing bodies implement athlete education programs, teaching tennis integrity to the next generation of players.

The IRP further believes that tennis integrity is hindered by the lack of cooperation between the sport’s stakeholders; governing bodies, tournament organisers, coaches, national bodies and bookmakers.

In the presentation, Lewis highlights data gaps between stakeholder parties, which have made corruption and match-fixing difficult to prove or convict.

From a betting-related standpoint, the IRP recommends drastic measures to curb potential corruption, with the panel endorsing a drastic reduction in the live scoring data supplied to bookmakers.

The live-scoring data reduction should lead to bookmakers discontinuing their match/tournament market inventories at the lower levels of tennis.

At present, ITF syndicated live match data is supplied by Sportradar AG, under the terms of a $70 million five-year agreement. Sportradar monitors all-levels of professional tennis including ‘Challenger’ and ‘Futures’ tournaments.

Responding to the IRP’s recommended data restrictions, Sportradar stated that the panel had been heavy-handed in its proposals and that ‘prohibiting data partnerships would not solve corruption’.

Further supporting integrity, the IRP proposes that all ITF sanctioned tournaments should end their partnerships/sponsorships with bookmakers.

Reacting to the IRP’s integrity publication, the four governing bodies of pro tennis – the ATP, WTA, ITF and Grand Slam Board – yesterday released a joint statement, supporting the panel’s findings and “agreeing in principle” to implement all the recommendations.

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