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Sports Betting

New tennis restrictions will not harm betting levels – but do not solve integrity issues

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Tennis Integrity Supervisory Board recently pledged to create a comprehensive integrity infrastructure and progressively remove the sale of live data to $15k tournaments.

Tennis

The statements show tennis is moving in the right direction, albeit slowly, as there are some major positives to be taken from the pledge.

Firstly, money is going into the events, there will be video recording, added security to deter unofficial data collection, as well as the appointment of on-site integrity protection personnel.

These are all great steps for the sport, which has been dogged by integrity issues in recent years, notably when the BBC and Buzzfeed exposed files that revealed widespread evidence of suspected match-fixing in 2016.

In futures tournaments (the lowest rung of professional tennis, which is what these events fall under) the prize money is very low. Players don’t tend to break even on the tour unless they are ranked in the top 150-100 and players competing on this tour will not be anywhere close to that.

There is also little information about them online and I wasn’t able to find out if I even needed to buy tickets for a tournament at the start of February; that is as a huge tennis fan so I know where to look. 

The money is not there, so betting is actually an excellent way of gaining attention and interest in these tournaments. It means money goes into them when, as far as I can tell, there is very little coming from elsewhere.  

When players are that low on a professional pyramid, with that little money going in and not much information available, there can always be an opportunity to manipulate, even if it is something as simple as only betting on who wins, due to the lack of in-play data.

There have also been some notable convictions for match-fixing in recent years, with Nicolas Kicker, once ranked 84th, being banned for three years in 2018. 

I think the opportunities and the publicity surrounding match-fixing in tennis should now be being seen as a less worthwhile risk for those lower down, but admittedly that is just hope. 

That positive feeling can be swiftly drowned out by the line in the recent report that says more $25k tournaments will be created, which are not affected by these changes.

Tennis must ask itself two questions: how much of a problem is in-play data? Secondly, should it be a big problem, why create more tournaments in the next highest level, essentially just shunting the problem higher up the professional pyramid?

In a statement, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) says creating more of the $25k tournaments will "provide a balanced calendar and deter unofficial data collection at events for which live scoring data has been discontinued."

Tennis has a quite remarkable number of tournaments; punters will not struggle to find other places to bet on and I have major doubts the TIU can stop unofficial data collection from happening.

Lastly, I feel the TIU has already failed in the most key aspect in the whole issue: protecting innocent players.

Marco Trungelliti, currently ranked 209 with a peak of 112, gave testimony that led to some players being convicted, but the TIU did not obscure his identity in the hearings of other players. He later spoke of how he felt little support in tennis.

The good news for bookmakers is the latest changes will not deter betting levels. But the bad news for both bookmakers and other stakeholders is these new measures do not solve what is admittedly a complex issue.

It is progress, but for the wider sport there should be a longing for something more profound.

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