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Corruption cases hit new high in 2016: TIU

Sydney: World tennis’s underfire watchdog dealt with more corruption cases last year than ever before, it revealed Thursday, with the issue back in the spotlight ahead of the first Grand Slam of the season.

In its annual report, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) said 11 players and officials were either successfully prosecuted or had appeals dismissed in 2016.

It also handled an unprecedented number of match alerts received from the betting industry where unusual or suspicious behaviour was detected.

The report’s release comes just days before the Australian Open in Melbourne, which was overshadowed last year by bombshell allegations of widespread match-fixing in the sport.

The integrity unit came under fierce scrutiny amid claims it was not doing enough to counter the scourge. It strongly denied covering up any evidence and launched an independent review.

“The issue of betting-related corruption in tennis made 2016 a difficult year for the integrity of our sport,” said TIU chairman Philip Brook.

“During the year, information received from partners in the betting industry confirmed an increasing number of matches at the lower levels of the professional game that were the subject of unusual or suspicious betting patterns.

“While this was not conclusive proof of corruption, it is an indication of concern that in all cases has to be investigated by the TIU.”

The London-based unit successfully convicted and sanctioned nine players and officials during the year, with five cases leading to lifetime bans.

Appeals by two players convicted of offences in 2015 were also dismissed, with the 11 cases amounting to its most prolific year since being set up in 2008. The previous highest was six prosecutions in 2015.

Among those punished were players from Thailand, Bulgaria, France, South Africa, Mexico, Poland and Greece, involved either in betting or attempting to influence the outcome of a match.

Most were low-ranked, with France’s Constant Lestienne the most high-profile having reached a career-high 164. He was slapped with a seven-month suspension for placing bets on 220 matches through an online account.

Convicted match officials came from Uzbekistan and Turkey, with the TIU saying it had busted a network that manipulated and sold scoring data to gamblers.

“This was the first instance of coordinated corrupt activity among officials,” it said.

Already this year, Romanian player Alexandru-Daniel Carpen has been banned for life for match-fixing, while Australia’s Nick Lindahl this week received a seven-year sanction.

Over the course of 2016, the unit dealt with 292 alerts from betting operators, up from 246 the previous year. A full investigation can follow an alert should the TIU believe corrupt activity was likely.

Most related to lower levels of professional tennis, with the ATP and WTA Tours and Grand Slam events the subject of just eight between them.

Brook said most players and officials were beyond reproach and those that abuse the sport would be “subject to rigorous investigation, and where proven to have broken the rules, prosecuted under the powers of the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program”.