If there is a brand in the professional sports industry that floats above the confusion below like an untouchable white cloud, it surely is Wimbledon. While football and athletics, for instance, struggle to contain the indiscipline in their upper management that has dragged both sports to the edge of the swamp, the home of tennis has been a green and purple oasis of propriety.

Philip Brook, the chairman of the All England Club, and his chief executive, Richard Lewis, would very much like to keep it that way.

Brook and Lewis landed in Melbourne on the weekend like a pair of country solicitors walking into some City scandal, as stories, rumours and counter-claims about match-fixing still raged through the first grand slam tournament of the year.

The defending champion Novak Djokovic was the first to be traduced – and perhaps was still disturbed by unproven and old claims when he went into temporary meltdown against Gilles Simon. Then Australia’s long-time hero Lleyton Hewitt had his farewell tournament wrecked by more allegations relating to matches so creaking that some journalists spent more time delving into the archives than watching live tennis.

Later a mixed doubles match at this Australian Open went into the dock – and out again, when it emerged the offshore betting company who had alerted one newspaper to suspect betting patterns had been very much a lone voice, probably looking for free publicity. True or fabricated, the rumours rumbled.

“It hasn’t been the greatest week for the sport,” Lewis said, “but I actually think that in the end it will be a good thing.”

Brook said match-fixing was “high on the agenda” at a meeting here this week of tennis’s leaders – representatives of all four grand slams, the ITF, ATP and WTA – “arranged, funnily enough, before any of this current issue was with us”. They were open to learning from the experience, he said.

“What you saw over the last 10 days actually is that the leadership of the sport worked pretty well together as a group,” he said. “I think the messages coming out about tennis integrity, how we all feel about it, have been consistent.”

As for the Tennis Integrity Unit – with which he has been associated for four years – he said: “We have to look seriously now at how we can improve what we already think is a good system. With the explosion of internet betting in particular, things have moved on.”

Lewis chipped in: “Compared to 10 years ago, the level of education [of players] has increased dramatically and improved. There have been lots of quotes from players over the last week saying they know what to do. There is a lot of reporting going on and probably one of the areas for improvement is communication, explaining to the big wide world just how much is going on. In comparison to 10 years ago that is a big improvement.”


When asked had there ever been match-fixing at Wimbledon, both responded: “Not to my knowledge.”

Why has Wimbledon not been tainted?

“Some of it is to do with money,” Brook said. “If you’re playing a Futures event, or Challenger event, and you’re trying to make your way in the sport, and finding it difficult and money is very hard to come by, it is on the face of it an easier market, let’s put it that way, to go after if you’re trying to corrupt somebody, rather than if you’re trying to talk to somebody who’s in the top 20. They’re much more concerned about themselves and playing etcetera and success on the tennis court.”

Asked would Wimbledon ever contemplate a commercial partnership with a betting company as the Australian Open have with William Hill, Brook said: “I think it’s extremely unlikely – and that isn’t to comment on anybody else. The thing to remember about Wimbledon is that we are a little bit different in lots of ways. Our whole commercial programme from start to finish is very different – how we manage it, present it – from any of the other grand slams. So a betting partner is very unlikely.”

He added: “Some people are asking is the closeness of the sport to the betting companies a good thing or not? Some players have said it’s a good thing, other people take a different view.”

Including Andy Murray, who called it “hypocrisy”.

One partnership Wimbledon has been committed to for nearly 80 years and which was extended last September to 2020 is that with the BBC. Did either of them feel “let down” when Radio 4 collaborated with Buzzfeed News last week in a broadcast investigation purporting to show a cover-up of match-fixing across the sport?

“We have to respect the independence of the BBC,” Lewis said, “and their independence is something that has been talked about a lot in the past week – so it would be hypocrisy for us not to want the BBC to be independent.

“Personally, I thought that there were a couple of aspects of the report that were, in the cold light of day, questionable. I’m surprised the BBC used certain aspects.

“As we get into it and the dust settles, there will be one or two things that won’t stand up and will be questioned. I can’t even remember if they said a match had actually been fixed or there was just a questionable betting pattern. Did they actually say it had been fixed? I don’t think they did.”

Were the All England Club given much notice?

“A few days. Not much,” Brook said.

Pressed on claims made in the programme that pointed the finger at 15 players in the draw here who had been under suspicion over the years – including in early rounds at Wimbledon – Lewis said: “My understanding of the analysis of the betting patterns was that it wasn’t over the top or extreme. You can only go by what the professionals say but the investigators who looked into that were pretty confident that it was OK.”

Brook added: “We all feel very strongly that it shouldn’t be tennis’s turn, that tennis hasn’t done the things we’ve seen in other sports. But I think what’s happening over the past 10 days makes us all realise we have to redouble our efforts in the good work we’ve been doing. We need to do more and we need to do better.”

Brook said being open with the wider public about match-fixing remained problematic.

“It’s a difficult area because, on the one hand we would love there to be more transparency but, if Nigel Willerton [head of the TIU] were in the room he would say, ‘I can’t give you that level of transparency because it would compromise the work my team are trying to do.’

“One of the main issues is trying to work out if there is a better way, a middle ground where there is more transparency about the work the unit is doing, while still allowing it to operate as effectively as it does. We feel there may be some things that can be done in that regard.”

Lewis added: “We do put in extra resources and there are extra measures – but needless to say I don’t want to go into too much detail. But yes, there are other areas, absolutely, where we put in above and beyond, not just in integrity.”

Would it not make sense, meanwhile, to get the players on board in fighting match-fixing, to proactively co-opt them as part of the army hunting out the enemy, rather than laying in wait for the next dodgy shift in betting patterns?

“That’s a very good point,” Brook said. “They absolutely are in it with us and it’s in absolutely nobody’s interests for this to go on. We have seen in this last week the reaction of some of the players and how offended they’ve been actually by some suggestions.”

Lewis added: “I think that’s one of the good things that is coming out of it. Anti-doping has been talked about for years and is now not a secret. I came back into the sport in 2012 and I haven’t met anybody who did not think there was a problem to be addressed. We are fighting the war, not a battle but a war. The fact it’s come out in the public domain, OK, we would not have wished it to be like this – blah blah blah – it’s definitely one of the good things that’s come out of it. I think the players will respond well.”

But what is the war? Do they know who the sport’s enemies are?

“I think we do,” Lewis said. “Integrity is the bottom line, as Roger Federer said. It doesn’t matter how much you pay for it, it’s about your moral compass. There’s no doubt doping was/is fairly easy to identify in terms of what it’s about. And I think to a large extent this is. It’s a legitimate leisure industry that at its edges can go wrong and the sport, all sports, need to protect themselves as much as possible about going wrong.”

Reminded Adidas had just suspended its long-term sponsorship contract with IAAF because of suspected wrong-doing in dope-testing in Russia, Brook said: “I think we could learn something from it, yes. I think the problems are different. There have been suggestions over the last 10 days there has been a cover-up in tennis – and none of us recognise that as a possibility. You can argue whether there are enough resources in the unit to really stamp this out. That’s a more interesting question. But I think therefore our problems are fundamentally different from other things we have seen in football and athletics.”

Lewis concluded: “Funnily enough, and I’m sure this point has not been lost on you all already, but one of the perceived weaknesses of tennis, I think, in this instance is one of our strengths, in that there are so many organisations.

“If you look at some of the other sports, without naming, all the power in one sport has been in the hands of just a few people and they turn out to be corrupt. I think the whole dynamic of this sport is much more difficult, anyway, because there are four grand slams that are all pretty influential.

“Then there’s the ITF, ATP and WTA. So any kind of collusion hasn’t happened and it’s much less likely to happen.

“But there are definitely lessons to be learned. You talk about Lance Armstrong, I remember at the time, there was widespread questioning about whether the sport actually wanted to find out what was going on. They just let a guy deny it and they accepted it. Well, that is absolutely not where tennis is at.”

Source: ‘There hasn’t been match-fixing at Wimbledon,’ says All England Club | Sport | The Guardian