MUMBAI (Reuters) - Alerts for suspicious betting patterns in tennis increased during the first quarter of 2020 as corruptors targeted lower level tours as the sport headed towards a shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) said on Wednesday.
The tennis season was halted in early March due to the pandemic, leaving players in the lower tiers who solely depend on tournament winnings without the opportunity to earn a living.
A 2018 International Review Panel report commissioned to address betting and integrity issues said that players in the lowest tiers were susceptible to corruption because of the difficulty in making a living. Only 250-350 players, the report said, earned enough to break even.
The TIU, which is tasked with tackling corruption in the game, said it received 38 match alerts from the regulated betting industry between January and March 22, compared to 21 alerts for the same period last year.
“The increase ... is an indication that the entry levels of professional tennis were deliberately targeted by corruptors, as the sport moved towards suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic,” it said in a statement.
The body received 16 alerts each from the men’s and women’s tennis tour, run by the International Tennis Federation, while six came from the ATP challenger series.
While tennis rewards top players handsomely, those in the lower echelons often struggle to make ends meet.
The men’s ATP Tour and the WTA, which runs the women’s circuit, suspended all tournaments until mid-July after countries started locking down their borders to contain the spread of the flu-like virus.
Georgia’s Sofia Shapatava, the world’s 375th ranked women’s singles player, has started a petition seeking assistance from the governing bodies for lower-level professionals.
Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou also called on the stakeholders to come together and devise a way of helping lower level professionals struggling financially due to the coronavirus shutdown.
While all alerts are not proof of corruption, they are followed up and then a full investigation is launched if required. The TIU said it anticipates integrity concerns to increase once tennis resumes.
“TIU, in conjunction with the governing bodies of tennis, is developing an education and awareness campaign to inform and support players, officials and tournament staff,” it said.
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Pritha Sarkar