Spanish police broke up a tennis match-fixing ring that is "alleged to involve nearly 30 professional players, including one who played in the last US Open," according to Sam Jones of the London GUARDIAN. The Guardia Civil said on Thursday that 83 people were implicated in the racket, "among them 28 players in the ITF Futures and Challenger categories." According to the force, those responsible for the alleged fraud "were engaged in bribing professional players in order to profit from bets placed on fixed matches." The Guardia Civil said in a statement, "Fifteen people have been arrested, among them the heads of the organisation, and another 68 are under investigation. Of those 83, 28 are professional tennis players who have either been detained or investigated -- one of whom took part in the last US Open." The organization added that the operation "had been prompted by complaints" made by the Tennis Integrity Unit (GUARDIAN, 1/10). REUTERS' Phillips & Martin reported news of the arrests came a day after the TIU revealed that in '18, more tennis players were disciplined for violations of anti-corruption rules "than in any other year since the body’s creation." Twenty-one individuals broke anti-corruption rules, "with the majority sanctioned" for match-fixing or betting offenses, while eight lifetime bans were imposed, "most notably" to Italian former world No. 49 Daniele Bracciali for match-fixing and facilitating betting (REUTERS, 1/10).
MILLION-DOLLAR OPERATION: In London, Jack de Menezes reported Europol added that at least 97 ITF Futures and Challenger matches were fixed. The Guardia Civil's statement said, "Our officers have proved the group had been operating since February 2017 and estimate that they had earned millions of euros through the operation." The identities of the 28 professional players were not released. One professional player was accused of being the "go-between" for the gang and the rest of the criminal group, and members of an Armenian group "are alleged to have attended matches in order to ensure that bribed players carry through with the pre-determined results," before giving the go-ahead to place bets at both national and int'l levels. The statement added, "Once the bribe had been paid, the Armenians headed for the match venues to use their overwhelming muscle to make sure that the player kept their end of the deal" (INDEPENDENT, 1/10). The BBC reported Europol added that more than 50 electronic devices, credit cards, five luxury vehicles and documentation related to the case "were also seized." Forty-two bank accounts have also been frozen (BBC, 1/10).
RECURRING PROBLEM: In Washington, DC, Matt Bonesteel reported it is "the second time in a little more than two years that law-enforcement officials have cracked down" on match-fixing on the Iberian peninsula. In Dec. '16, Spanish law enforcement officials detained 34 people, including six tennis players ranked between Nos. 800 and 1,200 in the world, "alleging they were involved in a match-fixing network in Spain and Portugal." The players allegedly received about $1,000 per match for losing specific points or games in 17 Futures and Challenger tournaments in Spain. Therein "lies one of the reasons match-fixing is so prevalent at these lower-tier events:" The prize money involved is "often paltry, giving players an incentive to throw matches at tournaments in far-flung locales that few people are watching." According to an ITF study cited by the New York Times last year, 6,000 of the 14,000 players who entered ITF Futures tournaments around the globe in '13 did not earn "one cent of prize money." Only 336 men and 253 women out of the 14,000 "broke even, when factoring in costs for travel and lodging." ITF Senior Exec Dir of Professional Tennis Kris Dent said, "That’s quite astonishing for a sport that has almost $300 million in prize money" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/10).