Written by Shahid Judge
| Mumbai |

Published: June 29, 2020 1:03:04 am

The syndicate reportedly works in convincing lower-ranked players from South America and Europe to fix matches, while the group’s members then place bets with bookies accordingly.

Two individuals of Indian ethnicity but residing in Melbourne, allegedly a part of the Australian branch of an international tennis match-fixing syndicate, have been charged by the Victoria Police for influencing at least two lower-level tournaments in Brazil and Egypt during the 2018 season, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald. The head of the syndicate, revealed as Indian-resident Ravinder Dandiwal by police documents, however has not been charged as yet.

The syndicate reportedly works in convincing lower-ranked players from South America and Europe to fix matches, while the group’s members then place bets with bookies accordingly.

Dandiwal, according to his social media description reported in the SMH, is said to be the owner of India-based sports management company Ultimate Sports Management, and has promoted cricket tours in the past – such as the Willowfest Australian Cricket Championship in 2017 and the Asian Premier League T20, held in Nepal a year later. He has also been described as the ‘General Secretary of the Cricket Council of India’ and ‘Chairman of the Cricket Premier League.’

The case comes just a few days after Tunisian player Majed Kailani was found guilty by the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) of fixing matches played in 2016.

Match fixing, like in other sports, has been plaguing tennis especially since there are official tournaments taking place at the same time all over the world, making it difficult for authorities to police all the events.

Who are the two individuals arrested and what are the charges?

Harsimrat Singh, 22, (a relative of Dandiwal) and Rajesh Kumar, 32, have received nine and 16 charges respectively. Both are residents of Point Cook, a suburb in Melbourne. They have been charged with using information regarding a fixed match to place a total of 22 bets.

According to the charges reported by the SMH, the duo were given information about “one or more of the players… and had arranged with Ravinder Dandiwal to manipulate the result of the match” or of players who had been “recruited (by Dandiwal) to engage in corrupt conduct.”

With the information, the pair placed 22 bets ranging from AUD 8.70 to AUD 25,000 on lower-level tennis matches, with an estimate of AUD 320,000 (around 1.66 crore INR according to today’s exchange rate) expected in winnings. It is also alleged that a part of the winnings are then shared with the players involved.

The pair had been arrested in 2018 and charges have been filed now awaiting a court hearing scheduled for September.

At what level of tennis does match fixing take place the most?

The problem is rife at the lower levels, mainly in the Futures events. Countries like Egypt and Brazil conduct numerous events at the lower level – which is perhaps why the syndicate had aimed to fix matches at these venues. The South American nation also hosts at least one Challenger event, along with the ATP 500 event at Rio de Janeiro, but the higher the level of a tournament, the less likely it is to be involved in match fixing owing to obvious scrutiny.

Why is match fixing prominent at the lower levels?

The players that normally compete at these events are ranked quite low and cannot get an entry to the better prize money events. These players tend to be unknown on the circuit, and since the prize money at this level is not lucrative, they are easy prey. The investigation by the Victoria Police also found that all the players targeted by Kumar and Singh’s group were ranked lower than 200.

What is the pay gap between tournament tiers?

The winner of the M25 event (the highest for a Futures event) in Nussloch, Germany is USD 3600. The amount is doubled to USD 7200 for the winner of the USD 50,000 Bangkok Challenger (a step up from Futures). In both these cases, the winner of the event has to win five matches in knockout format. Meanwhile, the first round loser at the main draw of the Australian Open received AUD 90,000, which is just under USD 62,000. All these events took place in the same week, commencing January 20, 2020.

The disparity in prize money at different levels has been a keen point of discussion after the tour was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving lower ranked players in particular without an income.

Has there been a case of a high profile player being involved in match fixing?

In January this year, former world no 69 Joao Souza of Brazil was banned for life by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) after an investigation revealed that he had been involved in match-fixing at Challenger and Future events in Brazil, Czech Republic, Mexico and the United States. Souza was also charged with failure to report approaches to fix matches, and also failing to cooperate with the investigation.

Do tennis governing bodies coordinate with betting firms to keep track of illegal activities?

Yes. The most prominent case was in 2007, when then world no 4 Nikolay Davydenko pulled out during his match against unfancied Argentine Martin Vassallo Arguello, who was ranked 87 at the time. During their second round match at an ATP event in Poland, betting company Betfair noticed bets being placed on the match to the tune of, according to a BBC report, UK Pound 3.4 million, which was about 10 times the usual money put on second round matches. Crucially, the bet was on Arguello winning the match, despite Davydenko claiming the first set.

Betfair considered void all the bets because of the alarming irregularity, and duly notified the ATP about the unusual pattern. The ATP began its investigation, but after a year cleared Davydenko and Arguello of any wrongdoing.

Has the ATP put up measures to quell unfair betting?

Yes. Though most ATP events are broadcast, there is a lag that can go up to a minute between the live action and pictures coming up on the television screen. During the lag, people in the audience can message punters, who can alter bets immediately before a particular point is televised.

Accordingly, the TIU sends a security team to monitor the crowd at stadia during ATP Tour matches. The team keeps an eye out for suspicious activity – for example, a fan using the phone or laptop frequently during a match. In such cases, security officials investigate the situation, and it may result in the fan being banned from attending tennis events in the future.

Have the governing bodies been proactive in their investigations?

Not entirely. In 2016, the BBC and BuzzFeed News conducted an investigation and revealed that “16 players who have ranked in the top 50 have been repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) over suspicions they have thrown matches.”

The report claimed that some of the players were former Grand Slam winners. Another report from 2008 alleged that 28 players had been involved in illegal activities.

None of the findings however, were followed up on by authorities as the ATP was reluctant to dig into cases going back 10 years, according to BBC.

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