Belgian police detain 13 in tennis match-fixing investigation

Belgian police have today (Tuesday) detained 13 people as part of a wide-ranging investigation involving authorities from other nations into suspected match-fixing in the lower levels of professional tennis.

The Reuters news agency said Belgian prosecutors stated that a criminal organisation with links to Belgium and Armenia has been bribing tennis players since 2014 to fix matches, in turn profiting from the results of these matches by placing bets on them.

Belgian authorities have cooperated with counterparts in Germany, France, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Netherlands and the United States in the investigation. The prosecutors said the fixed matches were usually in the lower-ranked Futures and Challenger series, where it was easier to bribe the players. A judge is set to decide at a later stage as to whether those detained will be formally arrested.

The prosecutors said, according to the AFP news agency: “This judicial investigation showed that an Armenian-Belgian criminal organisation actively would have bribed professional tennis players from 2014 to the present day in order to obtain a pre-arranged match result with the aim of betting on these fixed matches based on insider information, thereby fraudulently boosting winnings.”

Today’s news comes after a report commissioned by the Independent Review Panel (IRP) formed by the sport’s major governing bodies in April stated that tennis is suffering from “very significant” integrity problems and a “tsunami” of match-fixing plaguing lower-level events.

The Interim Report was the result of a two-year investigation by the IRP, which was set up after a 2016 report by the BBC and BuzzFeed News uncovered suspected illegal betting across the sport. April’s report, which included input from more than 100 players, focused on corruption at “lower and middle levels of the sport”, citing the men’s game as a particular concern.

Although the IRP did find “some evidence of some issues” at higher levels of the sport, such as at grand slam and world tour events, it did not believe this to be a “widespread problem” within the elite tennis sector.

The IRP also said it found no evidence of a possible cover-up by any of the sport’s governing bodies or the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU).

Other key findings from the report included the uncovering of a so-called “match-fixing season” that runs from October to the end of the year. During this period, “traces of up to two or three fixed matches per day” were found across events sanctioned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).