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Volume 7 No. 149

Leagues and Governing Bodies

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).

All Black Sonny Bill Williams played for the Wild Knights in Japan's Top League during the '12-13 season.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Japan's "rise as the destination of choice" for leading All Blacks signals a "significant shift in the player transfer market," according to Liam Napier of the NEW ZEALAND HERALD. The only question now is "whether this is a short or long term swing." France and England have "long been kingmakers when it comes time for All Blacks to cash in and depart New Zealand shores," whatever stage in career that may be. Marquee All Blacks can "still take their pick of multi-million dollar contracts that set families up for life." Increasingly, though, players are "grasping there is much more at play than the bottom line alone." Lifestyle, language and longevity are all "wider considerations." And in the coming years, for top-tier talent, it seems Japan "ticks more of those boxes than Europe." Set aside the money aspect, and Japan is "increasingly attractive because England and France are not always as they seem." Imports in Europe "are often asked to get up every week for 35 weeks." Over that length of time, the "physical nature of the European game takes its toll on forwards" while backs "find natural instincts stifled." Life in France, especially, is "challenging at first, too." Culture shock "can be very real." The European game holds "much more glamour" than Japan in terms of "history, prestige and quality" but few New Zealanders "play backyard footy aspiring to lift the Champions Cup" (NZ HERALD, 1/9). 

Netball will "launch an immediate search" for business leaders and identities for new roles as the sport "breaks ground" with the establishment of an independent commission to run the Suncorp Super Netball competition, according to John Stensholt of THE AUSTRALIAN. The sport wants to have the commission in place by the start of the '19 Super Netball season in late March and "will recruit six independent directors for the seven-person board to run the competition." Netball Australia CEO Marne Fechner will also join the commission, which has been "styled at least in part on the powerful" Australian Football League commission, which oversees the country’s "most lucrative sport." Fechner described the commission as a "turning point for the sport" and said that commission members "would be targeted for their expertise in growing the commercial side of netball." She said, "The vision for Suncorp Super Netball is to be the top sporting league for women worldwide, and to achieve that we need to put the necessary structures and resources in place." Super Netball will "remain wholly owned" by Netball Australia, but the commission will be given the powers to self-govern and "lead its own operations." Netball Australia will appoint five directors, one of whom is Fechner, and the commission will appoint another two (THE AUSTRALIAN, 1/11).

The Spanish Basketball League (ACB) and the players' association (ABP) signed a new collective bargaining agreement. The agreement, which was signed by ACB President Antonio Martín and ABP President Alfonso Reyes will run through the '21-22 season (ACB).

A WADA team has "gained access" to the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA)'s laboratory in Moscow, 10 days after an initial deadline. A WADA spokesperson said that the three-person team had reported "no issues" with its work so far (BBC, 1/10).

USA Cricket was welcomed as the 105th member of the Int'l Cricket Council on Tuesday. USA Cricket came into existence after USACA was expelled in June '17 for "lack of cooperation in terms of unifying the cricket community in the country." As an associate member of the ICC, USA Cricket "will be entitled to gain the necessary funding" in conformity with the governing body's development funding policy. The board can also authorize domestic and int'l cricket in the U.S. (CRICBUZZ, 1/8).

The ICC announced an "unprecedented" 15-day amnesty as part of its investigation into corruption in Sri Lanka. The amnesty, which will run from Jan. 16-31, is the "first of its kind held by cricket's world governing body." Failure to report an approach, incident or information can "result in a ban from cricket of up to five years," but those who come forward during the ICC amnesty with information on corrupt conduct which they had previously failed to report will not be charged (BBC, 1/9).