The culture secretary, John Whittingdale, has expressed “extreme concern” at the Guardian’s revelations that international tennis umpires are facing life bans over betting scams.
In the wake of an admission from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) that two umpires had been banned over gambling-related incidents and four more were facing possible life bans, corruption issues in the sport are also expected to be added to the agenda for the prime minister’s looming anti-corruption summit.
“It is extremely concerning to hear that umpires – people who are in charge of ensuring fair play on the court – may have been involved in corrupt practices. The lack of transparency around these cases is deeply worrying and once again it has been the British media that has uncovered what has happened,” said Whittingdale.
“I have spoken to the tennis authorities in recent weeks on the importance of good governance and transparency. The government is completely committed to helping tackle corruption in sport and the issue will be on the agenda at the prime minister’s major anti-corruption summit later this year.”
Sir Eric Pickles, who is the government’s “anti-corruption champion”, also confirmed that tackling international sports corruption – including the malaise at Fifa and the IAAF – would form a key plank of the agenda at the summit.
Meanwhile, tennis authorities will be asked by a parliamentary committee why they kept sanctions secret against umpires who had been banned for betting offences, amid calls from MPs for a specialist sport-crime unit to help deal with the issue.
At a hearing of the culture, media and sport select committee in the spring, the game’s governing bodies will be asked to respond to a Guardian investigation that forced the ITF to reveal that two umpires had been banned and four more suspended pending an investigation. Damian Collins, the Tory MP who sits on the committee and is a longstanding campaigner on sports governance issues, said the revelations were a “wake-up call” for the sport that was “hopelessly under-resourced” when it came to battling corruption.
“The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) is only really accountable to other people in tennis. There’s no outside scrutiny. It needs more resource and proper independent scrutiny,” said Collins.
“They seem to have been in denial about the scale of the problem. Everyone in tennis knows it’s a huge problem. The TIU seems to be a Wizard of Oz-type operation – they speak with great authority but behind the curtain there’s only one man.”
Collins also called on the sport to review whether it should facilitate gambling on low-level tournaments. Tennis has become a hugely popular betting product and the ITF signed a $70m (£48.5m) deal with the data company Sportradar to give it access to live data and odds that are then sold to betting companies.
The four umpires under investigation are believed to have delayed the input of scores by up to 60 seconds to allow gambling syndicates to place bets.
“There needs to be much more scrutiny and a review of whether we can bet on minor tournaments and events, and a review of in game betting as well. That has to be done by the sport,” said Collins.
The MP also called for a specialist sports crime unit that could work across the industry on bribery and match fixing, giving potential whistleblowers somewhere to turn where they knew their concerns would be taken seriously and collaborating with other police forces and international agencies.
“The government has announced a new anti-fraud taskforce that will specialise in financial crime, we need something similar that can specialise in sports crime,” said Collins.
“It needs to be independent from sport. It would allow those within sport can refer a case to it in the knowledge it would be taken seriously. There have to be places you can go outside the system.”
Paul Scotney, the former head of the integrity unit at the British Horseracing Authority, said the latest revelations highlighted the need for tennis to be more transparent in the way it dealt with offenders.
“Sports have to be transparent and they can’t use commercial reasons as an excuse not to be transparent. If you’re not being transparent and publishing the penalties, you’re not providing a deterrent,” he said.
The ITF has said that the bans weren’t made public because its rules only changed in December last year to allow it to publish the names of offenders.
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