Tennis' governing bodies to initiate review of Tennis Integrity Unit

MELBOURNE -- In the wake of reports about possible match fixing that came out shortly before the first matches at the Australian Open, the international tennis governing bodies announced Wednesday that they are instituting an independent review panel "aimed at further safeguarding the integrity of the game."

"Ten days ago the work of the Tennis Integrity Unit was called into question by an investigatory BBC program," said Philip Brook, chairman of the Tennis Integrity Board. "And while the program did not reveal anything new, it was widely written about and has caused damage to our sport. It is vital that we repair this damage and that we do so quickly, which is why today we're announcing an independent review that will examine all aspects of tennis' anti-corruption program, including the Tennis Integrity Unit's work, which will make recommendations for change.

"We are determined to do everything we need to do to remove corruption from our sport."

The review panel will be headed by Adam Lewis, a London-based barrister focused on sports law. He will select two other members to work with him. According to the governing bodies, the review panel will address making the TIU more transparent without compromising its investigative confidentiality, additional resources for the TIU and structural changes to enhance its independence.

The lack of funding should be of paramount concern, said Martina Navratilova, the former tennis great who has long been an ambassador for the sport. Officials say the unit has received $14 million in total investment since 2008.

"We're talking about thousands and thousands of matches, so the only way to really control that is for the ATP, WTA and ITF to work together and put more money into the integrity unit," Navratilova said Wednesday. "How do you police thousands and thousands of matches without a lot of money? We're talking millions of dollars here that are needed.

"How do you police thousands and thousands of matches without a lot of money? We're talking millions of dollars here that are needed."

ATP chairman Chris Kermode said "nothing is off the table" in the review.

"There is no deadline for this review," he said. "It will take as long as needed. It will cost what it costs. The results will be made public and published. And the most important point is, we intend to act on every recommendation."

Kermode said that while there is no deadline for the final report, they are looking for a quick "interim report" so they can take any quick steps recommended.

Brook said that while he believes the TIU has done good work since its inception in 2008, the reports over the past 10 days have caused damage to tennis and need to be addressed.

"Sport is under the microscope more and more," he said. "The integrity of sport in general is under the microscope. We have to reassure everybody in our sport, watching our sport, that integrity is absolutely at the top of our pile of things to do."

Buzzfeed and the BBC released a report the day the tournament began, alleging that studies of betting pattern data showed there were 15 male players, all of whom had been ranked at some point in the top 50, who probably had been involved in fixing matches. It did not, however, provide proof or name the players.

A week later, The New York Times reported that an online gambling site shut down betting on a mixed doubles match between Lara Arruabarrena/David Marrero and Lukasz Kubot/Andrea Hlavackova because of suspicious betting patterns, though other gambling services told Australian paper The Age that they saw nothing unusual. Arruabarrena and Marrero, who lost in straight sets, denied there was any fixing, and Kubot and Hlavackova said they didn't think Arruabarrena and Marrero tanked the match, either. Kubot and Hlavackova said they spoke with the TIU about it.

Kermode said that while tennis is taking the reports very seriously, he also emphasized that the reports provide no actual evidence of fixing.

"It's important to point out that having lists, which are mainly compiled by suspicious betting patterns, do not mean corruption," Kermode said. "They are a red flag, and they are investigated. Personally, I think it's sort of irresponsible for anyone to publish names, verging on libel. We believe that any player, until they are proven guilty, should be allowed to play and shouldn't have their reputation damaged at all."

Australian tennis legend Lleyton Hewitt's name has come up for suspicious betting patterns, though at least one betting data analyst studying the matches in question saw no reason to suspect Hewitt. Hewitt called such suggestions "absurd" and "a joke."

Kermode said he was not happy to see Hewitt's name surface, either, but also emphasized the need to investigate.

"Lleyton Hewitt, as we all know, is one of the greatest competitors of all time," he said. "I'm not sure he'd give his mother one point when he was playing. However, that can't just stand alone. Again, we've had examples of other great sportsmen where everyone's refuted that there has been any wrongdoing. We need to go out and prove it. What I don't like is names are attached based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever."

Lewis has lectured on sports law and acted as an arbitrator.

"He has an encyclopedic knowledge of sports law jurisprudence," Brook said. "He is one of the foremost authorities in the area and is a compelling advocate."

Kermode said that starting the review panel is not an admission that there is widespread corruption in tennis.

"If we sat back and had done nothing, we would have been accused that sport again is being complacent," he said. "We don't want to be complacent. We want to be constantly vigilant. I think this is a very bold step. We need to address the perception, public confidence, hit it head on. We don't have anything to hide at all. But you don't need another sports administrator standing up here and telling you that. In light of what's happened over the past year with other sports' governing bodies, we don't want to be another sports administrator doing that. Let's get someone independent in, and we'll take it from there."

Brook said that if there was one positive to come out of the past 10 days, it's that it has heightened everybody on this issue.

"I think, going forward, we would hope that the players would be even more alert to this and more proactive in terms of providing information and support," he said. "I think that's a positive thing."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.