Tennis Match-Fixing Scandal: Unanswered Questions Linger About Nikolay Davydenko, Martin Vassallo Arguello

Yesterday, Buzzfeed and BBC News broke a story about a tennis match-fixing scandal, and players who are said to be suspected include Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello. A “group of whistle blowers inside tennis” was reported to have made the information available to the news outlets on the condition of anonymity.

Sixteen top 50 professional tennis players are reported to have been “flagged” over suspicions that they had “thrown matches” by the Tennis Integrity Unit. Each of the players was reported to have been permitted to continue competing. The TIU reports that it has investigated 18 tennis match-fixing cases that have resulted in disciplinary action. As a result, five players and one official were handed lifetime bans from professional tennis.

Argentinian tennis pro Martin Vassallo Arguello's names has been implicated in a match-fixing scandal broken by 'Buzzfeed' and the 'BBC'.
Martin Vassallo Arguello plays in Shanghai in 2009. [Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images]

The TIU was assembled in 2008 by four tennis organizations to “streamline and strengthen corruption investigations.” That year, an investigation led to suspicions of match-fixing at “major tournaments including Wimbledon” on the part of nine as-yet-unnamed players, as reported by ESPN.

A 2008 match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello was said to have first aroused the suspicions of observers when “million of pounds’ worth of suspicious bets,” said to have come from Russia, were made on the match. Neither Davydenko nor Vassal Arguello was directly implicated with “evidence.”

However, it is reported that Matin Vassallo Arguello was sent a total of 82 text messages, which are purported to be hosted with Document Cloud, with the “suspected ringleader” of an organized crime gambling group in Italy, who was said to have made large bets on many of the Argentinian tennis pro’s matches. An investigation into this group was reported to have “stalled” when they threatened the investigators with violence. Russian and Italian groups were reported to have made large bets on 72 matches involving 28 players in total.

It was reported that Davydenko was the heavy favorite going into the 2008 match with Vassallo Arguello, and he even held a lead at its beginning. Despite this, 10 times the normal betting volume, or a total of £3.6 million, was said to have been wagered on Vassallo Arguello, reaching a peak as Davydenko took his initial lead. Much of the betting was said to have originated from nine Russian accounts. Gambling site Betfair, which suspected that the game had been thrown, took the unprecedented step of voiding all bets for the match.

Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello have been named in relation to suspicious bets placed on a 2008 match between the two, reported to have been made by the Russian Mafia.
[Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images]

Although Buzzfeed implies that it and BBC News are in possession of other players’ names “who have been flagged” by the TIU, it reports that the publications do not intend to publish them because without more concrete evidence, such as e-mails, texts (as was available with Vassallo Arguello), or audio recordings, it is difficult to prove conclusively that any of the players took part in any wrongdoing. It is noted that the TIU has the authority to demand such evidence from players, and it would seem that police and other law enforcement agencies would have the power seize relevant data as well.

Reports suggest that players were approached at hotels near major events and offered large amounts of cash to throw matches. “Gambling syndicates from Russian and Italy” are reported to have earned “hundreds of thousands of pounds” betting on these suspicious matches. In total, nine lists including upwards of 70 players’ names have reportedly been leaked.

Lawyers with the TIU were reported to have advised the watchdog that transgressions on the part of professional tennis players named in the 2008 report probably weren’t eligible for retroactive enforcement, even though match-fixing is reported to have been specifically banned by all professional tennis organizations for many years. The nine who were described as “escaping further investigation” have been reported to continue to play and to continue to lose suspicious matches.

Martin Vassallo Arguello and Nikolay Davydenko are the only two names released in connection with a match-fixing scandal by 'Buzzfeed' and the 'BBC'.
[Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images]

Nigel Willerton, the head of the TIU, described enforcing corruption charges through prosecution as “notoriously difficult.”

A retired police chief, Ben Gunn, who was the leader of the group that recommended the formation of the TIU, described the unit as “a plastic solution which was not effective then and it’s not effective now.”

In spite of the reports of numerous top-level tennis players throwing matches in a seeming professional tennis organized crime syndicate and former chief Gunn’s remarks, professional tennis has bristled at what it perceives as the presentation of “evidence of match fixing suppressed” on its part in the media.

Chris Kermode, a member of the TIU board and executive chairman with the Association of Tennis Professionals, stated that the sport remains “fully committed” to keeping tennis free from “corrupt betting practices.” He described the sport’s “stringent procedures and sanctions” to address corruption and stated that the associations have demonstrated that they will “act decisively when our integrity rules are broken.”

[Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images]

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