Elseneer revalation proves tennis is clean, says ATP

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LONDON, Sep 27 (Reuters) The governing body of men's tennis dismissed suggestions that corruption was rife in the sport after Belgian Gilles Elseneer revealed he had been offered 100,000 euros to throw a first-round match at Wimbledon in 2005.

Elseneer, who has earned a modest 473,798 dollar in prize money after almost a decade on the men's tour, had been offered the bribe to lose his match against another journeyman, Italy's Potito Starace, the Times newspaper reported today.

Last month the ATP began investigating possible irregular gambling patterns on a match at the Sopot Open in Poland between world number four Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina.

Davydenko, who retired hurt from the match, denies any involvement and will give his version of events to the ATP next month.

The ATP said today that if a player such as Elseneer, then ranked 191 in the world, could instantly decline the offer, it proved that the integrity of the sport was intact.

''Fans need to understand that we have procedures in place and the most important thing is not that sports people are being approached but it's what sports people do when they are approached,'' an ATP spokesman told Reuters.

Elseneer, who won the match in straight sets, was quoted as saying in The Times: ''I had my honour as a player to protect and Wimbledon meant everything to me.

''They said I should take my time and give them my reply the next day but I only needed a couple of minutes to realise it was impossible for me to contemplate.'' NO EVIDENCE The newspaper said another Belgian, Dick Norman, said he had been offered money at Wimbledon to provide information on his fellow players but he declined. He could not remember the year.

''All the players who have said they've been approached have instantly said 'no','' the ATP spokesman said. ''Our investigations since 2003 have not found any evidence that a player is sanctionable under those rules.'' ''Tennis is a 1-1 gladiatorial battle but it is no more vulnerable than any other sport when you look at it in the context of online exchanges and what they offer punters in terms of opportunities,'' the spokesman added.

''You can bet on so many different components of a match because of the way online works, which is why we saw the threat and started to put in place in 2003 the way in which we could protect the integrity of the sport even further.'' Tennis has an anti-corruption code which states that players and their personnel, including coaches, trainers, managers, agents, family members and guests, are not allowed to wager money on the sport.

Anyone flouting the rules faces a maximum penalty of 100,000 dollar and up to three years' suspension from the game.

The code also says that anyone caught trying to fix a match will be banned for life.

''The responsibility is on everyone in tennis to understand what's at stake, to understand what's expected of them and to work with the custodians of the game in order to protect the integrity,'' the spokesman said.

Reuters PDS DB2251

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