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Game must get its chaotic house in order after spate of scandals

A unified response is needed to tackle the scandals that have hit tennis in recent months.

Steve Bierley
November 9, 2007 12:08 AM

It may be seen as apposite that with the men's end-of-season Tennis Masters Cup about to begin in Shanghai this Sunday the game is currently almost deafened by Chinese whispers. The latest and most bizarre story concerns the possibility that Tommy Haas, a player hardly renowned for his fortitude of body or spirit under pressure, was poisoned prior to Germany's Davis Cup semi-final defeat against Russia in September.

"We take this very seriously," said the International Tennis Federation spokeswoman, Barbara Travers. "The investigation starts today."

It was the same statement the sport's top brass have been uttering ad infinitum over the past few months as scandal after scandal has rocked the game. Wimbledon may remain predominantly white but all shades of grey, it seems, are currently flooding over, through and around the net.

Martina Hingis tested positive for cocaine. Russia's Nikolay Davydenko, already under investigation for involvement in an alleged match-fixing scam in Poland, was fined for not trying in St Petersburg. The French kicked out spectators with laptops at the Paris Masters last week in a betting crackdown.

British juniors were suspended for posting party pictures on the internet, and a British coach was jailed for molesting a junior. Meanwhile, or so it has seemed, every other male player has a story about being approached to lose matches, and this after the ATP, the men's ruling body, initially suggested match-fixing was an invention of the media.

Suddenly the genteel "Anyone for tennis?" strawberries-and-cream-on-the-vicarage-lawn world of tennis - itself a marketing myth created by Wimbledon to disguise the corporate troughing - has been scattered to the four winds, even if the PR and marketing men and women are currently rubbing their hands and marvelling at the sport's newly discovered sex, drugs and rock and roll image. Forget the tirades of John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase, or the teens and pre-teens chasing Bjorn Borg's short shorts and golden tresses - this is the real thing. Haas poisoned? You betcha.

The tennis authorities, rarely the fastest-moving organisations in the world, have been left looking more dilatory than usual. This is a sport complicated by the fact that four organisations preside over it. These are the ITF, which is the overall ruling body, the ATP, the WTA, the women's ruling body, and the Grand Slam Committee, representing the interests of Wimbledon and the three other majors in Australia, France and the United States. To see them move as a coordinated force is a rarity, and individual pronouncements occasional beggar belief. The need for a tennis commissioner to oversee the sport has never been so compelling.

Etienne de Villiers, the ATP president who previously worked with the Disney corporation and is referred to in a less than flattering way as "Mickey" by many of the players, has been acting tough. He told a sports business conference in London last week that tennis was being seriously threatened by match-fixing and gambling syndicates. "As far as we are concerned, if they are involved in match-fixing they will be thrown out."

Yet this is the same organisation, 50% owned by the players, which at the beginning of the year fined Davydenko five times more for criticising the way the sport was run than, more recently, for not trying. It is also the body that mismanaged the nandrolone scandal four years ago, so that to this day it is believed that ATP trainers inadvertently administered the drug through contaminated substances, even though this was never proved. De Villiers' assertion last week that a lot of doping came down to "accidental or third-party influences" was scarcely believable, and it was little wonder that Dick Pound, outgoing head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said some federations did not have the stomach for the fight.

De Villiers may have been talking a hard line on match-fixing but, with the Davydenko issue still unresolved, the fact that the world No4 had lambasted the ATP president in Monte Carlo this year, suggesting he knew nothing about the game, has led some to wonder if the Russian is at the centre of a witch-hunt. It seemed so last week in Paris when the French umpire Cédric Mourier appeared to be telling Davydenko, whose game was malfunctioning, how to serve. A spokesman for the ATP brushed the matter off as a normal conversation but it was unclear whether an edict had gone out with regard to Davydenko's play. The supervisors took no action.

Davydenko's lawyer, Frank Immenga, placed further pressure on De Villiers and the ATP yesterday when he revealed that a Scotland Yard investigator, hired by the ATP, had told him that the Russian holders of nine betting accounts stood to share £725,000 on Davydenko's match in Poland against Argentina's Martín Vassallo. "We have done everything possible," Immenga said. "The question is, what is the ATP doing? They still don't know what happened."

De Villiers and members of the ITF and the Grand Slam Committee are scheduled to meet next week in Shanghai, where Davydenko will be taking part in the Tennis Masters Cup. All parties need to tread extremely carefully, because tennis has never been under such forensic scrutiny.

12,385 Posts
What a bullshit. A few minor scandals amidst a very strong sport. Tell me which sport is 100% scandal-free.

41,908 Posts
Shitty article, but for this part:

Etienne de Villiers, the ATP president who previously worked with the Disney corporation and is referred to in a less than flattering way as "Mickey" by many of the players, has been acting tough.
:haha: :haha: :haha:

I wonder why. :angel:

13,750 Posts
Bierley is the newspaper's chief tennis correspondent and not some opportunistic bandwagoning hack. It's not a bad article. Nothing special either but I agree with his general sentiment about the organisation looking completely clueless most of the time. The changes the ATP has tried to implement would be better evidence than the "scandals" though but I guess this makes better reading for something probably largely aimed at a non-tennis audience

Premium Member
184 Posts
Neil Harman, from the Times, has written this article about the current spate of scandals.

I think it's worth reprinting in full; it's especially worth reading right through to the end. I generally like Harman's articles and sense that here is a sports correspondent who genuinely loves tennis.

From 'The Times', 10/11/07
The tarring and feathering of the sport has been a degrading spectacle these past few weeks. In a shamefaced procession, male players have marched into the confessional, admitted that they have been approached to throw matches, then puffed out their chests as if hoping to be praised for not having been led into temptation. The fixers have fled – to return, for all we know, in different guises.

Tennis has always been open to manipulation. There is the youngster who rises to the top of the local junior section by habitually cheating on line calls, but whose coach turns a blind eye because it suits another purpose; rich parents whose wealth opens doors that might otherwise be closed to their children; national federations who wish to quash rational debate and, worst of all, the throwing of matches for financial gain.

One recalls a German television investigation in 2005, when an unnamed professional player (they are always unnamed, it seems) was quoted as saying: “You go online, see your name [on a tournament website], you know that you’ll not be able to play at 100 per cent or you have an appointment during the next few days somewhere else. And then you start thinking if it is really worth it [trying to win]. And if it’s not worth it, you take the money [to throw a match]. If it is worth it, you try to play.” No anticorruption unit in the world can alter that kind of mentality.

What tennis can do is limit the opportunities for cheats to prosper and then impose heavy, career-threatening sanctions against anyone caught in such an unprofessional act. It can also be careful about who it gets into bed with: for example, in these times when all associations have to be scrupulously considered, should a tournament on the ATP Tour be co-owned and organised by “the largest gaming and entertainment business in Russia”?

The impact of recent tales – and stories of cocaine abuse and spiked drinks – has been vividly different from when rumours of corruption surfaced four years ago. Then, the sport’s reaction was like that of a person whose cat has soiled a neighbour’s garden. Now, we know that there are dodgy incidents and the odd dodgy player – we cannot doubt it when so many matches have been labelled “suspect”, even if we have no proof.

What is vital for the integrity of tennis – of any sport – is its believability. Perhaps he has never put a foot wrong in his life, but Nikolay Davydenko, of Russia, the fourth-best player in the world, has come under investigation by the ATP over dubious betting patterns on a match in Poland in August. His cause has not been helped by one umpire warning him for not trying and another, a week later, asking him to try harder.

Rugby referees have the power to tell players not to do something – “hands away, stay onside” – but there is no punishment for what they may consider less than 100 per cent commitment. We all may think we know if a player is tanking – tennis parlance for giving up – but can we be certain? Smear and innuendo are just that, nasty words with nasty implications.

There are bound to be renewed calls for the appointment of an all-powerful commissioner – as in golf – which is no bad idea. Getting the four arms of the sport’s governance – the grand-slam chairmen, the ITF, the ATP and the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour – to agree to it, though, is the problem.
Yet it is worth recalling that it is only four months ago that we were cherishing the finest Wimbledon men’s singles final for 20 years, between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the best role models a sport could wish for.

Bear in mind, too, the fourth-round match between Nadal and Andy Murray at this year’s Australian Open, which raised British expectations that the Scot could soon win a major championship; the two finals in Miami, Florida, where Serena Williams recovered from losing the first set 6-0 to Justine Henin to take the women’s title the day before Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, announced his arrival as a big-time champion; James Blake and Fabrice Santoro playing sublime tennis long into the night in the second round of the US Open in New York; David Nalbandian slicing through back-to-back Masters Series tournaments in Madrid and Paris; the devotional to Tim Henman.

As the rush to condemn intensifies, we ought to cling to these and thousands of other examples of matches that are played every day for the right reasons with outcomes that are entirely honourable.
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