Corruption fears haunt tennis

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Melbourne, Feb 10 (AFP) Persistent corruption fears aretroubling tennis after several players were contacted byinvestigators and as rumours fly of unusual results andsuspicious betting patterns.

Rising Ukrainian star Alexandr Dolgopolov confirmed hewas among the players to receive a letter from the TennisIntegrity Unit (TIU), an anti-corruption squad headed by anex-Scotland Yard detective.

Dolgopolov, speaking during last month''s Australian Openin Melbourne, said some Russian players had also beencontacted. There is no suggestion Dolgopolov or the otherplayers are suspected of wrongdoing.

"I wasn''t really surprised because I knew some guys, youknow, like Russian guys, they got those letters," Dolgopolovsaid.

The content of the letters has not been disclosed.

Corruption allegations -- which come after a spot-fixingscandal left three Pakistan cricketers banned and facingcriminal charges -- tend to focus on surprising results, oftenin obscure tournaments, which attract large bets.

In 2008, Russia''s Nikolay Davydenko was cleared after along-running probe into a match he forfeited in Poland whichdrew big wagers, prompting betting exchange Betfair to voidall bets.

Last July, Britain''s Daily Mail said officials wereinvestigating a win by 370th-ranked Richard Bloomfield inRhode Island, which attracted one million pounds (USD 1.6million) in bets.

An Italian website said investigators were also lookinginto irregular betting patterns surrounding a match in St.

Petersburg in October.

Serbia''s 52nd-ranked Janko Tipsarevic, another player tobe contacted by the TIU, has denied any wrongdoing in hisdefeat to world number 98 Horacio Zeballos in October.

"I said to the Tennis Integrity Unit that I have noproblem, they can send me a letter every week if they want,"he told Italy''s www.ubitennis.com website.

"All it needed was a phone call to my bank, to my phonecompany and I gave them everything. Easy, just took sevendays, I sent them my account, the telephone list, everythingthey wanted, what''s the problem?"

A well-placed source in the bookmaking industry saidtennis officials were investigating about 10 suspicious casesfrom recent months, indicating the possible scale of theproblem. More (AFP) AT

He said that in the past decade Internet betting had fuelled an explosion of cases where gamblers were placinglarge wagers on unexpected outcomes, in low-profile matches,and winning.

"There''s a deep, dark world out there," the source, whodid not want to be named, told AFP. "You could spend foreveron betting sites, spotting trends and see times where thereare unusual patterns going on."

"It very rarely involves the top players and it veryrarely involves the late stages of tournaments," he added.

"It tends to happen in the early rounds of obscuretournaments. It doesn''t happen in Grand Slam finals or GrandSlam semi-finals."

The source said the matches often involved players fromeastern Europe or South America. But he said leaks were oftenbelieved to come from support staff, rather than playersthemselves.

"We found a lot of matches where the winning players werepulling out before the end of the game," he said.

"The information we got was people on the inside --trainers, physios, coaches -- who were sitting and watching aguy getting his hamstring massaged every day, were passing theinformation on."

Worries over corruption prompted the TIU''s creation in2008, headed by former British detective Jeff Rees.

Last year, its investigations ended with a fine andsuspension for Austria''s Daniel Koellerer for putting odds andlinks to betting sites on his website.

Russian player Ekaterina Bychkova was also fined andsuspended for failing to report an approach to influence amatch.

"The TIU... is concerned by attempts to influence playersand other parties to provide inside information or toinfluence the results of matches or incidents within matchesthat would provide unfair advantage to gamblers," a spokesmantold AFP.

According to the bookmaking source, the anti-corruptionteam faces an uphill battle in catching cheats, as it''s oftenhard to link a player or staff to money being wagered.

"I think the ATP are trying to do their bit to stamp itout but the problem is, unless you have phone records or amoney trail it''s almost impossible to do," he said.

"Unless you can prove there''s a connection between theplayer and the money that''s being placed, how do you proveit?"

Meanwhile corruption claims have provoked disquiet amongtennis''s senior representatives, including 16-time Grand Slamwinner Roger Federer.

"I don''t know if I get more angry or disappointed. It''sjust a pity to a game that has given us everything. Why wouldyou want to play with that?" Federer said. (AFP) AT

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