The first Grand Slam event of the tennis season has been overshadowed by allegations of widespread match-fixing. As the Australian Open began in Melbourne, world tennis officials scrambled to play down the allegations.
The chairman of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), Chris Kermode, used a hastily organized press conference on Monday to assert that the sport's authorities were committed to stamping out any wrongdoing.
"The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) and the tennis authorities absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match-fixing has been suppressed for any reason or isn't being thoroughly investigated," Kermode said.
"While the BBC and BuzzFeed reports mainly refer to events from about 10 years ago, we will investigate any new information," he added.
The comments came just hours after the British Broadcasting Corporation and the New York-based media website BuzzFeed published reports containing allegations of widespread match-fixing in professional tennis.
No alleged match-fixers named
Among other things, the reports said that 16 unnamed players who have been ranked in the world's top 50 had been repeatedly flagged to the TIU over suspicions they had thrown matches in the past decade. They also said eight of those players, none of which were named in the BBC and BuzzFeed reports, were taking part in this year's Australian Open.
The reports alleged that the TIU, which was set up in 2008 to investigate and combat corrupt practices in professional tennis, had failed to act upon suspicious behavior by any of the 16 players in question.
The head of the TIU, Nigel Willerton, refused to comment on whether any professional players were under investigation for alleged match-fixing.
"It would be unprofessional for me to comment on if any players here are being monitored," Willerton said.
The media reports also said that a 2007 ATP inquiry, which started over a match between Russia's Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina, found that betting syndicates in Russia, northern Italy and Sicily were making hundreds of thousands by betting on games that appeared to be fixed. It did not find sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to take action against either player.
In Melbourne on Monday, Kermode noted that such any such inquiry "has to find evidence as opposed to information, suspicion, or hearsay."
"Let me just say that all of us here in tennis are absolutely committed to stamp out any form of corrupt conduct in our sport," he said. "There is a zero-tolerance policy on this. We are not complacent. We are very vigilant on this."
pfd/rc (Reuters, AFP)