Call to end $93m deal in bid to cut tennis bets

NEW YORK • Two years ago, after Buzzfeed and the BBC reported widespread match-fixing in tennis, the sport's governing bodies created an independent panel to review the problem.

Last week, it came back with a report of rampant corruption in the lower levels of tennis.

The three-lawyer panel also identified a culprit - a data deal that makes results from low-level matches instantly available to betting markets - and suggested that the US$70 million (S$93 million) partnership between the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and global data firm Sportradar be dissolved immediately.

The report's recommendation has consequences for the United States, where the Supreme Court is considering a challenge to the prohibition on sports betting.

In anticipation of the court's decision, legislators are debating whether to offer sports betting and, if so, how to structure any laws to minimise corruption.

Official data - like that in Sportradar's tennis deal - feature prominently in those discussions.

The report found that the sport's smallest events are more corruptible: players and referees earn less, with less oversight in general. Betting on these events can be discouraged by restricting the official data feeds to lower-level contests.

Tennis is unusually vulnerable to match fixing because it is a solo sport, and in-game betting means a player can intentionally throw a game, and not dramatically hurt his or her chances to win the match.

Sportradar, in its current deal, pays the ITF for its data and sells it to bookmakers around the world. The Swiss company offers data for some 60,000 of those lower-level matches each year - precisely the events that see a disproportionate amount of tampering.

The panel reported that match-fixing was "particularly acute and pervasive" in tournaments that have minor prize purses of US$15,000 or US$25,000 and limited monitoring of betting patterns.

The report says the Sportradar deal, which was signed in 2012 and extended in 2015 at six times its initial price, sparked the corruption.

In the two years prior to the initial agreement, only three ITF events raised red flags for corruption. By 2016, one year after the US$70 million extension was signed, that number had jumped to 240 events and 185 last year.

Sportradar has defended the agreement and disagreed with many of the report's conclusions. They also called the prospect of terminating its ITF deal early "unrealistic" and "potentially unlawful".

"Prohibiting data partnerships will not stop betting, live or otherwise, on these matches nor will it remove corruption risk at this level... This will almost certainly encourage black market activity," the company said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2018, with the headline 'Call to end $93m deal in bid to cut tennis bets'. Print Edition | Subscribe