Secret files which allegedly show that international crime syndicates have orchestrated match fixing at the top level of world tennis have come to light as play begins on day one of the Australian Open.
They claim to have evidence of suspected rigging at major tournaments including Wimbledon.
The match fixing was allegedly orchestrated by gambling syndicates in Russia and Italy, which targeted prominent players in their hotel rooms at major tournaments and offered them $US50,000 ($A72,800) for each fix.
According to the report, authorities have been repeatedly warned about a core group of 16 players, all of whom have been ranked in the top 50.
More than half of those players will play in this year's Australian Open.
One top-50 ranked player competing in the Australian Open is suspected of repeatedly fixing his first set, the report claims.
The evidence uncovered by the investigation includes a bundle of leaked internal documents - the so-called "Fixing Files" - as well as analysis of betting on 26,000 tennis matches.
The names of more than 70 players, including Grand-Slam title winners, reportedly appear on nine leaked lists of suspected fixers who have been flagged to world tennis authorities. None of those players have faced sanctions.
Nearly a decade has passed since world tennis authorities were first handed compelling evidence about a network of players suspected of fixing matches at major tournaments.
A full-scale match-fixing investigation was launched in 2008, following a notorious match in Poland in August 2007 between Russia's Nikolay Davydenko and Argentine player Martin Vassallo Arguello.
The match had attracted millions of dollars' worth of highly suspicious bets from Russian-based accounts.
The two players were cleared of violating any rules.
However, BuzzFeed and the BBC claim leaked files from that investigation show that Arguello exchanged 82 text messages with the suspected ringleader of an Italian gambling syndicate.
The Association of Tennis Professionals and Tennis Integrity Unit have denied the allegations they hid or overlooked evidence of match fixing.
Despite the revelations and broader community concern around sports betting, gambling advertising will adorn Melbourne Park for the Australian Open for the first time this year.
Advertising from official UK gambling partner William Hill will appear on electronic signs around Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court and Hisense Arena.
William Hill's local operations are headed by bookmaker Tom Waterhouse.
Concerns about gambling and sports integrity were raised during the 2014 Australian Open when a man was arrested for betting courtside.
Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesman Tim Costello said tennis on TV was synonymous with summer. "No-one wants wall-to-wall tennis coverage that's littered with ads from the gambling pushers," Mr Costello said.
"Tennis has already had bet fixing scandals. Surely this is an invitation for more corruption of the sport."
Monash University's Dr Charles Livingstone, an expert in gambling, said the public should not leap to conclusions, but noted that match-fixing problems would continue once "big sport gets into bed with big gambling".
"It's only a matter of time before it infects all the major sporting codes," he told ABC radio.
"The reality is that it's as inevitable as doping in sport, unfortunately. They [players] can be detected, but what we've got here is the people that have popped up enough.
"When you've got two players who are relatively close in ranking and you've got a smarter gambling operator, then they're going to be able to pull that stuff off time, after time, after time.
"They're not going to make such big profits, but they're still going to make money off it."
The fix is in
Tennis is thought to be a popular target for match fixers because there are only two players involved and, given many matches are decided by a few crucial points, it is reasonably straightforward to ''influence'' the result.
There are several different ways to "fix" a contest, either the whole match, the score or even particular points.
Various ways to fix a match
- Tanking. A simple case of a player deliberately setting out to lose a match.
- A deliberate intention to retire hurt, so allowing the opponent to win. Many bookmakers void matches that aren't finished, so negating the effect of this.
- Increasing the odds. A player would win the first set and go ahead in the second, inflating the in-running odds of their opponent, and then lose.
- Fixing the score (1): The odds on predicting the correct score of a match will be much longer than simply picking the winner, so if a player is known to be tanking, he can be backed to lose in straight sets at better odds.
- Fixing the score (2): As much of tennis betting is done "in running" especially overseas, there are wild fluctuations in price during a match. There are suspicions in some matches of players deliberately sharing the first two sets and then letting the best man win the third so that punters in the know can take advantage of the fluctuations in odds and make a profit whoever ends up winning the match.
Nikolay Davydenko, right, receives treatment on his foot during his second round match with Martin Vassallo Arguello, of Argentina, at the Prokom Open in Sopot, Poland in 2007.
The infamous Martin Vassallo Arguello v Nikolay Davydenko match was played in Sopot, Poland in August 2007.
The suspicion was that both players were involved. The match was investigated but the players were not sanctioned.
What happened: World number 87 Vassallo Arguello was backed from $6 into $1.51 favourite with online bookmaker Betfair before the match and was still a hot favourite "in running" despite Davydenko winning the first set.
At 2-6, 2-1 in the second set, Vassallo Arguello was trading on Betfair at $1.06 - the odds of a virtual certainty - despite still being a set down.
Davydenko pulled out injured in the deciding third set. $10 million was traded on the match. Betfair, whose rules stated it paid out on incomplete matches, voided all bets after consulting with integrity investigators.
Australian cricketers Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were fined over their involvement with a bookmaker. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
Some of sport's major betting scandals
1919 BASEBALL WORLD SERIES Dubbed the "Black Sox Scandal", eight players from the White Sox accepted payment from New York gangster Arnold Rothstein in exchange for throwing matches in the series against the Cincinnati Reds. A grand jury was held in 1920 to investigate the series and while the players were acquitted of any criminal wrongdoing, they were banned from Major League Baseball for life.
1984 FINE COTTON AFFAIR Tom Waterhouse's father, Robbie, and grandfather, Bill, were banned from all Australian racecourses for 14 years for their involvement in the ring-in scandal at Brisbane's Eagle Farm Racecourse, in which a horse by the name of Bold Personality was painted in a futile attempt to pass it off as another horse named Fine Cotton. Bold Personality won the race, but the scam began to unravel when people noticed the paint running down his leg. The horse was disqualified and an investigation launched that saw organiser John Gillespie, horse trainer Hayden Haitana, businessman Robert North banned for life. Both Robbie and Bill Waterhouse have always denied prior knowledge of the substitution.
1994 BRUCE GROBBELAAR Then-Liverpool goalkeeper was charged with conspiracy to corrupt after British newspaper The Sun released video footage of Grobbelaar discussing match fixing with a Malaysian businessman. The keeper pleaded not guilty to the conspiracy charges and after two trials where neither jury could find enough evidence to support the claim, Grobbelaar was cleared. In 1998 Grobbelaar sued The Sun for libel and was awarded £85,000 ($A195,000), however the decision was overturned at appeal and Grobbelaar was ordered to pay £500,000 ($A1.146 million) in legal costs, which left him bankrupt.
1994 AUSTRALIAN CRICKET Two of Australia's greatest cricketers - Shane Warne and Mark Waugh - were fined over their involvement in a betting scandal that plunged the game into of one of its greatest crises of the modern era. The Australian Cricket Board fined Waugh and Warne for providing information about match conditions and possible team selection to an Indian bookmaker during Australia's tour of Sri Lanka in 1994. The scandal was covered up until 1998.
2000 HANSIE CRONJE The South African cricket captain admitted to receiving $150,000 from bookmakers to fix matches and influence other players to do the same. Implicated in the scandal were Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje and Henry Williams. After the King Commission of 2000, Cronje was given a life suspension from any involvement in cricket (playing or coaching), which was upheld at appeal. He was killed in a plane crash in 2002.
2004 KIEREN FALLON The champion Irish jockey was charged in 2004 with race fixing after a UK police investigation alleged up to 80 races between 2002 and 2004 had been fixed. Fallon, along with three other jockeys, was charged in 2004. In 2006, further charges were laid against him of allegedly conspiring to defraud customers of internet betting site Betfair.
2006 ITALIAN SOCCER Serie A clubs Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Regina were accused of offering bribes to Italian soccer officials in exchange for the appointment of favourable referees for key matches throughout the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons. Punishments handed down by the Italian Football Federation saw Juventus relegated to Serie B, stripped of its 2005 and 2006 championships, and deducted nine points to begin the following season. Milan retained its place in Serie A, but was deducted 30 points for the 2006-2007 season. The scandal forced the resignation of Italian Football Federation president Franco Carraro and the entire Juventus board of directors.
With Alex Lavelle, Sarah Cox and Peter Munro