The call came at around 4am Irish time – one of my clients was in Astana, Kazakhstan, playing in a $25,000 tournament where she’d been a top seed in singles in a very poor field. She bombed out in the Quarter-Final to some journeywoman, but had a doubles semi-final to play in two hours time.
There was a catch though, she had made the cut-off for a spot in the qualifying draw of a WTA Tour event in Baku, Azerbaijan. Simple enough, though if she won her Doubles match (where she was also top seed), she’d not make the sign-in and qualifying for Baku. If she withdrew from the Astana event she’d lose prize money, be fined and possibly sanctioned. If she pulled out due to “injury”, she’d also be forced to miss the next tournament.
Needless to say she was left with just one option, throw the match. She had already come to this decision when she called and this was not the first such situation I’d encountered in tennis nor the last. Because of the laws of the game, players are forced to lie, cheat and fake their way around the tour. This would certainly be match fixing in its purest form. It is the very definition of match fixing:
the action or practice of dishonestly determining the outcome of a match before it is played.
For a young 21-year-old woman it was a difficult choice and one which she’d made before. This time she asked me to make it for her. I told her to be different – we’d planned on winning this tournament and the one the following week in Astana.
She stayed and put on a brilliant display, losing narrowly to the eventual winners. The following week she was amazing and reached the Singles Final and won the Doubles.
Match fixing in tennis is nothing new. I fired a player once for agreeing to take all the prize money from her opponent just for throwing a game. Why? The girl’s mother wanted her precious future ‘Sharapova’ to get a foot on the rankings ladder and she was unable to do so fairly. My player figured $250 in the pocket was better than having her pride intact.
One Russian player, a blossoming talent, was contacted about throwing a match and for some inside information. She didn’t report it right away, preferring to ignore it, as many players do. She was fined and suspended for 30 days. She has never been the same player or person since. And while players spoke out in her support, they all avoided implicating themselves – because they too could be fined and banned.
In 2010 the night before the Maltese Centenary Cup Final, our star attacking midfielder was called by a Maltese International, who was playing in Hungary at the time, and told he’d be ‘quids in’ if he had an off day. The young lad, who I’d known since first seeing him play for Eintracht Frankfurt youths, phoned me in a panic.
I called the Maltese player who, after first asking me what was the problem with the offer and did I want a cut, to then telling me he’d come after me. I phoned the police and our Maltese FA rep, but apparently it was all “a joke” on the foreigners.
I’ve written about this type of match fixing before here and here, not the glamorous kind with Asian syndicates (they always seem to be Asian syndicates) and extravagant claims. Rarely do we class the situations when two teams organise a result which suits them both “match fixing”, no, that’s just getting a result.
Bookies know and remove matches involving tennis players who are about to lose so they can catch a flight to another tournament – tournament officials make sure to keep it straight.
Of the more than 40 tennis players I’ve managed from 2003 to 2013, more than half were approached to throw a game – by an opponent or “someone”. They were the younger, more inexperienced ones who came to me for advice. The ones with saddle sores tried not to involve me or my colleagues in such mundane minutiae.
Yet like match fixing in football, it will run its course and disappear when the next vital report hits the news feed. Nobody mentions the match fixing in the Russian Premier League this season.
Does anyone know what happened to the 12 matches between 2011-13 that were “suspicious” in Russia? Or the 42 since 2009? We’ve forgotten that Russian police arrested two former players in the South of Russia for organising results in 2014. Or that they found more than $200,000 in used notes in plastic bags with code names and telephone numbers to keep the payments straight.
At the start of December I was in Sarajevo on a business trip. The owner of the place we stayed was an old hand who was involved in football here in the late-90’s. Late one night, when tongues were loosened with a few glasses of homemade Orahovica (walnut liquor), he regaled me with the tale of how he made sure the team we was involved with won promotion to the old 1st Division.
Match fixing, then as now, was mainly done for two reasons – to ensure players got some sort of salary, and to get your team promoted or not relegated. What struck a chord is that three of the men he dealt with are still involved in the game today, one of them at the highest level.
This week’s scandal in tennis will soon disappear, covered up and buried – much like the evidence of doping, pedophilia and child abuse in the sport. These are inconvenient truths that scare sponsors and “partners”. Just as athletics continues to rot, and cycling pretends to be clean, football will put on a show to play is fair, like tennis.
Once again the punishment for reporting is more severe and damaging than keeping silent – like whistle-blowing in any other business – people will do nothing. Match fixing is in the fabric of sport and will not be bleached out.