Tennis: Tennis umpires' secret ban in wager scam

A logo is seen at the entrance to the International Tennis Federation headquarters.
A logo is seen at the entrance to the International Tennis Federation headquarters.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Two international tennis umpires have been secretly banned, while four others face being thrown out of the sport for life on charges of serious corruption, according to The Guardian.

The British newspaper revealed yesterday that umpires from Kazakhstan, Turkey and Ukraine are among those alleged to have taken bribes from betting syndicates in exchange for manipulating live scores on the International Tennis Federation's Futures Tour - the lowest rung of professional tennis - in eastern Europe.

This allowed crooked gamblers to place bets, already knowing the outcome of the next point.

It said that Kirill Parfenov, an umpire from Kazakhstan, was de-certified for life in February last year for contacting another official on Facebook in an attempt to manipulate the scoring of matches.

Yet, the tennis authorities never publicly released details, alerting only some tournament directors and national tennis federations.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) also kept quiet over the case of another umpire, Denis Pitner of Croatia, who was suspended for 12 months at the start of August last year for regularly logging on to a betting account from which bets were placed on tennis matches.

The ITF has also never publicly acknowledged that four more officials are facing serious corruption charges, and only did so when prompted by The Guardian.

The newspaper's report will raise fresh concerns about the extent of corruption in tennis and the lack of transparency at the ITF, the governing body of the sport. There are also questions over whether the ITF inadvertently created the conditions for corruption to thrive.

In 2012, it signed a five-year deal worth US$70 million (S$98 million) with data company Sportradar to distribute live scores from very small tournaments around the globe.

That meant the bookmakers could provide odds on those matches, particularly on the lucrative in-play market, where odds shift as the games progress.

Under the terms of the Sportradar deal, umpires are asked to immediately update the scoreboard after each point using their official IBM tablets. This score is then transmitted around the world to live-score sites and bookmakers, allowing the latter to update their prices as the matches proceed.

However, the umpires are alleged to have deliberately delayed updating the scores for up to 60 seconds - allowing gamblers to place bets knowing what was going to happen next.

In some cases, according to the Guardian, umpires are alleged to have texted the gamblers directly before updating the score on their tablet computer.

It meant bets could be placed on the outcome of games and sets in the knowledge that the chances of them winning were much higher than the odds implied.

The ruse was carried out in tournaments in eastern Europe where there was little or no television coverage or security, and the poorly paid or volunteer umpires were more susceptible to taking bribes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Tennis umpires' secret ban in wager scam'. Print Edition | Subscribe