Match Fixing, Prize Money & Social Media Abuse

Skype: @TennisRatings

Match Fixing - No Comment On Individual Matches

With match fixing firmly at the forefront of many tennis bettors/fans minds this week, with there being a few matches with 'suspicious' betting patterns, I thought I'd write a blog post with my thoughts.  

Just as a reminder, to those who are unaware, and those with misconceptions, mathematical modellers/gamblers like myself DO NOT want any match fixing.  We want a match where both players give their maximum efforts, so that our models work to maximum efficiency. 

I also need to get something out of the way - you'll never see me accuse a player of fixing on here or social media, simply because the aggravation isn't worthwhile.  I'll tweet about bizarre odds movements but that's it.  There's plenty of accounts you can follow on Twitter who will call players out (some are more reputable than others) but this isn't my style.  If someone asks me if a certain match is fixed, I won't answer or say I have no idea.

I also get asked whether to back/trade out of positions in these suspicious matches, and again, I will answer, I have no idea.  Personally I don't touch these matches, and for good reason.  If you win, your account is likely to be flagged, while as we saw with the cancelled match in Winston Salem last night, the market can turn against you - market manipulation is easily possible and you could be staring a big loss in the face if you follow the market. 

Please do not ask me my opinions on these matches on social media unless you want to be ignored or given a reply such as 'No idea'.  As I said, I'll happily comment on odds movements, but that's it.

More of a visible deterrent needed to reduce fixing

What I will comment on is why I think players are drawn to match fixing, and my personal point of view, and what I hear from others, is that the players are incredibly relaxed about being caught.  Effectively, they realise that the chances of being caught are so minuscule, and take the risk on that basis.

I believe that one of the reasons that the risk of being caught is so low because the TIU (Tennis Integrity Unit) is under-powered.   According to their own website, the TIU have ten full-time employees, which rose from five in 2016.  This is a number which often wouldn't even be enough to send one to each of the ATP, WTA and Challenger events in a week - surely something which should be a minimum requirement.  My suspicion is that if they had more of a 'visible presence' it would act as a strong deterrent.  

Furthermore, according to previous media reports, unless they have appointed an expert recently, as far as I am aware, they do not employ anyone who is a full-time betting analyst.  I am unsure whether the authorities, and the media, are fully aware of quite how incriminating certain betting patterns can be, and instead of them being held as evidence, these betting patterns are often rather bizarrely attributed to sour grapes on behalf of losing gamblers.

Other sports do use betting patterns to prosecute players, and my belief is that Tennis should do similarly.

Burden of proof for prosecution too high

This neatly leads me onto another subject, that of the burden of proof.  I understand that the burden of proof before taking action against someone accused of fixing a match is extremely high, and I'd be keener to reduce this to 'on the balance of probability'.  

Alternatively, and possibly the best course of action, would be to have Tennis tours make all participation 'invite only', as I believe snooker does.  Too many alerts, or any other behaviour warranting, would automatically revoke a player's invitation to compete.  We need to rid all sport of match fixing, and a 'softly softly' approach won't cut it.

Low prize money no excuse given massive player ability differential

Moving on, some people attribute poor prize money at the lower levels as one of the reasons players want to fix matches, but I don't agree with that theory - it's simply knowing the difference between right and wrong.

Several recent articles from the New York Times and describe the struggles at the lower levels, but for me there is a simple answer - if you can't earn enough money at your chosen profession, find another.

Many will argue that the prize money differential between those at the top and bottom is too extreme, but anyone who does so should answer this question - in a match, how many games would a 500 rank player win against an elite player?  Perhaps one if they are lucky? The differential between prize money is so big because the differential in ability is so stark.

Look at the odds of a 100 rank player against the likes of Federer or Nadal in a Slam - often (and correctly) they are as big as 50/1 to win the match.  

Please feel free to name me another sport with such a discrepancy.  The reason why there are so many millionaire golfers, for example, is that  on a given day, most players can beat each other.  Many of the recent Golf majors have been won by first-time winners - how often does this happen in men's tennis in particular?  Almost never.

Player complaints about prize money unjustified

It is quite incredible that a player aged in their late 20s is grinding it out on the futures circuit, playing tournaments and winning a few hundred a week, not even enough to cover their expenses.  Data shows that career turnarounds for players aged over 25 or so happens pretty much never, so their dream is never going to happen.

Given this lack of prize money, it's quite remarkable that you often see players tanking, and having complete meltdowns at the lower levels.  You'd think that they'd understand that they need to give their best efforts, both physically and mentally, in order to succeed financially.

The amount of players complaining about a lack of prize money, and the struggles of tour life, seem to be growing by the week, but how many of them could stand there and say they put the very most into their career?

Social media abuse of players should not be tolerated

On that subject, another thing that players like to complain about is social media abuse, and they have a point here.  

Gamblers, or others, abusing players on social media should not be tolerated, but I don't at all have a problem with constructive criticism, which is something I've tried in the past.  However, the players, presumably because they are over-sensitive given previous issues, ignore this too!  There is little doubt that players opinions towards constructive criticism are biased because of the flak they've been given in the past.  

Having said this, as I've seen players do many times before, if a player jokes around on Twitter within an hour of losing their match, then it's something akin to a red rag to a bull for irrational, irate gamblers (or even fans of the player) and such an attitude from a player is surprising - perhaps defeats don't hurt enough?

Furthermore, and finally, players who complain about social media abuse should ask themselves this - how much social media abuse do you think Roger Federer and David Ferrer receive?  I'd be amazed if Federer, the epitome of sports professionalism, or Ferrer, who has treated every match as if it was a Grand Slam final, throughout his career, received much abuse whatsoever...