Tennis: Italian prosecutor calls for top-20 players to be probed for betting

Prosecutor has evidence tying tennis players to gambling, as Evert says doping is common

LONDON • An Italian prosecutor has called for more than two dozen top tennis players to be investigated by the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) for possible links to betting rings.

Cremona-based Roberto di Martino told the BBC yesterday that tennis authorities should be doing more with the evidence that he has gathered concerning at least two players who have ranked in the world's top 20.

The Italians Potito Starace and Daniele Bracciali are the only professionals to be investigated and charged thus far, but di Martino has called for others to be scrutinised by the TIU.

He told the BBC: "Surely, if these foreign players were Italian, they would certainly have been at least questioned."

Di Martino claims that more than 24 non-Italian players have been mentioned by gamblers in recordings of phone calls and Internet chat logs acquired through his investigation.

"Interestingly, they are not so-called second-tier tennis players, but also players of some importance," he added.

IT'S UP TO THE EVIDENCE

There's always suspicion when you hear what the drug is used for. That's why her defence needs to show medical records, and (her) dosage. If it does come out cleanly, I would say banning her for the rest of year would be enough.

CHRIS EVERT, on Maria Sharapova's possible punishment for a failed drug test.

Starace and Bracciali have been accused of conspiring to fix matches and are due to appear in court in May. They both deny charges of conspiracy to commit sporting fraud.

Tennis was rocked in January when a joint investigation by the BBC and BuzzFeed uncovered files showing that, over the past 10 years, 16 players who were ranked in the top 50 have been repeatedly flagged to the TIU over suspicions their matches were targeted.

All the players, including winners of Grand Slam titles, were allowed to continue competing.

The sport's authorities have maintained the sport is clean, but are conducting an independent review into its anti-corruption practices.

On Monday, in another blow to tennis, former star Chris Evert claimed that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is common in the sport and went on during her career - the 18-time Grand Slam champion played professionally from 1972 to 1989 - and she knew players who doped .

"You'd have to have your head in the sand if you didn't at least assume that every professional sport might have some sort of performing-enhancing drugs being used," she said. "Honestly, in every professional sport I think this goes on to a certain extent."

Last week, Russian Maria Sharapova, 28, announced that she had tested positive for meldonium in January. She claimed that she had taken the drug - which entered the banned list on Jan 1 - for 10 years due to health problems. She now faces a ban of up to four years by the International Tennis Federation.

Evert, 61, said the length of Sharapova's ban will hinge on her medical records and the former world No. 1 may only deserve to be barred for the rest of the year.

"It all comes down to viewing the medical records from the doctors that took care of her 10 years ago and examining exactly what her case is," said Evert. "This drug is used for angina and severe heart issues. There's always suspicion when you hear what the drug is used for. That's why her defence needs to show medical records, and (her) dosage.

"If it does come out cleanly, I would say banning her for the rest of year would be enough."

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Call to probe top-20 players'. Print Edition | Subscribe